Telegraph fakes a plot by the EU to control British press


by Tim Fenton    
9:53 am - January 24th 2013

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Leveson: EU wants power to sack journalists proclaimed the Telegraph’s point man in Brussels, Bruno Waterfield, on Tuesday.

The idea that those meddling Brussels bureaucrats were going to take control of press regulation was a dream come true for the anti-EU brigade.

Because not only is there no Leveson connection, there is also no move to give the EU power over hiring and firing of hacks: Waterfield’s talk of “setting up state regulators with draconian powers” is scaremongering baloney of the crudest kind.

So what has actually happened? Well, a “high-level group to discuss freedom and pluralism of the media across the EU” has been established.

Yes, the “freedom and pluralism” got filtered out by the Europhobes. But what has this group achieved? That question is answered by its report submitted on Monday to the European Commission (EC) [.pdf]. Note that the report has not been issued by the EC: the EC has not responded to it, so there are no proposals to implement part or all of its recommendations.

But let’s just address some of the flagrantly dishonest claims made by Waterfield in his Tel piece: there is no proposal to “rein in the press” (note that the report quotes Article 11.2 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, “the freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected”, on its first page), and nor is there any urging of “tight press regulation”, or “state regulation”.

The EC has not taken a position on the Leveson recommendations, and as these are a matter for the UK, does not intend to do so. There is no proposal to put “Brussels”, or indeed any EU body, in control of press regulation in any member state.

So what has been suggested? EC Vice President Neelie Kroes gives a hint with “Ensuring the independence of regulators across the member states and their cooperation”.

The recommendations talk of acting “to protect media freedom and pluralism”. And “The EU should raise the issue of journalistic freedom in all
international fora where human rights and democracy are discussed”. Plus the one the Tel doesn’t like: “All EU countries should have independent media councils”.

Thus the freedom of the UK press:to peddle any old rubbish it can get away with.

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Tim is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He blogs more frequently at Zelo Street
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Reader comments


I think the sinister part of the Neelie Kroes report is where she suggests public subsidies for media who reflect the values of the EU. Say nice things about the EU and you get public subsidies, no subsidies for those who are mean to the EU because they do not reflect the values of the EU. Considering she is the European Commissioner for Competition adds a bit of farce to the report.

We have loss-making media all over the place because their business model no longer works. Next thing we know we have the EU competition commissioner recommending the loss-making industry should be propped up with subsidies if they have the right values. Anyone could be mistaken for believing that journalists wrote the report themselves.

We correctly have single market rules against state aid for industry because that would be unfair competition. However, we must have public subsidies for the media to ensure competition. Kinda contradictory message.

2. domestic extremist

We should be so lucky as to see the EU insist on freedom and pluralism in the UK press. Converting it into a range of reader-controlled co-operatives rather than leaving it to self-serving corporations, trusts and millionaires would be a useful step towards such desirable goals. But the EU is a rich men’s club, pushing neo-liberalism, not popular democracy.

If we had a free press I would be concerned about regulation. But we don’t. We have a corporate press,owned by a handful of rich elites. Pumping out elite propaganda faster than Pravda ever could.

Any newspaper that pays £200,000 to Boris to print his crayon scribbling is not a serious media outlet.

Bring on the regulation.

With articles like those we see in the Tory-supporting press there can be no sensible and rational debate on the EU.

You may remember some of these myths
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6481969.stm

@Richard W #1:

I think the sinister part of the Neelie Kroes report is where she suggests public subsidies for media who reflect the values of the EU

Really? Where? I can’t find such a recommendation, but maybe you’re reading something into the report that I can’t see.

@ 5. Robin Levett

Recommendation: There should be streamlining and coordination of support and funding for quality journalism, as already exists in several EU countries. Europe-wide awards should be made available for talented journalists and those having made significant breakthroughs. p6

Recommendation: Any public funding should only be available for media organisations which publish a code of conduct easily accessible to the public (including on their site). p6

Recommendation: Any public funding to media organisations should be given on the basis of non-discriminatory, objective and transparent criteria which are made known in advance to all media. p6

Recommendation: There should be a provision of state funding for media which are essential for pluralism (including geographical, linguistic, cultural and political pluralism), but are not commercially viable. The state should intervene whenever there is a market failure leading to the under-provision of pluralism, which should be considered as a key public good. p6

Furthermore, allocation of public funding should be conditional on media outlets making public the ethical codes on which they base their conduct. p28

Universities and research centres should set up positions for journalists in residence under such fellowships to be funded by the EU. p30

The very idea of promoting a European public sphere, the possible emergence of European media, increased European awareness within the national public spheres, or increased national coverage of European affairs, is still controversial in many quarters. More importantly, there is a fear that policies to increase European coverage by the media would be guided by some particular conception of the value of European integration, rather than just encouraging broader discussions. This does not mean, however, that the Union and its Member States should abstain from any policy or action aimed at promoting increased media coverage of EU affairs. On the contrary, in
the same way that EU and State actions (including funding) may be necessary to promote pluralism at the State level, it is equally appropriate for the Union and its Member States to undertake actions to promote pluralism in the form of increased coverage of EU affairs.” p39

So we have the requirement for codes of conduct and only those with the correct code of conduct will be eligible for public subsidies. We also have the questionable notion that the provision of information/opinion/prejudice is a public good. Therefore, state funding should be provided for media that the public has decided is not worth purchasing. Public subsidies also to be provided for the media to report on the EU. Presumably to say nice things. This will all be overseen by the media council blockleiters who will be monitored by the EU Commission to ensure everyone is complying with “European values,” whatever they are. The European values of imposing a technocrat government on Greece? How about an EU coup d’état on Italy. Democratic values like that.

” Recommendation: All EU countries should have independent media councils with a politically and culturally balanced and socially diverse membership. Nominations to them should be transparent, with built-in checks and balances. Such bodies would have competences to investigate complaints, much like a media ombudsman, but would also check that media organisations have published a code of conduct and have revealed ownership details, declarations of conflicts of interest, etc. Media councils should have real enforcement powers, such as the imposition of fines, orders for printed or broadcast apologies, or removal of
journalistic status. The national media councils should follow a set of European-wide standards and be monitored by the Commission to ensure that they comply with European values.” p7

7. Robin Levett

@Richard W #6:

Oh. Dear.

I suppose if you squint at it upsaide down in dim light and deliberately misread what is said there, you might be able to make out what you originally claimed. Actually reading the words written, however, gives a different message.

As for your quotation of the only recommendation that mentions “European values”, you really must read pages 19-21 of the report; a relevant excerpt;

The second ground for EU action is the intimate relationship between a free, open and pluralist media space at the national level and the exercise of democracy at the European level. The democratic legitimacy of the European Union is achieved in different ways, but a core component is representative democracy at the EU level, as required by Article 10 TEU. This is realised, in the first place, by the right granted, by the same provision, to all European citizens to participate in the elections to the European Parliament. This fundamental right would be compromised in any Member State where media freedoms are curtailed or media pluralism compromised, for this would deprive citizens of their right to form informed opinions. While the treaties clearly foresee for elections to the European Parliament to take place at the national level, it is equally clear that they must conform to common EU values and democratic principles. Any flaws in the electoral process at the national level, including restrictions on media pluralism and freedom, are bound to compromise the EU democratic process itself. The same could be said of the right given to all European citizens to vote in local elections. The substance of this right will be affected where such elections might be influenced by restrictions imposed on media freedom or the lack of media pluralism.

So the “European values” in issue are press freedom and media pluralism; which the report sees as essential to underpin democratic freedom. The reference is to media councils; to ensure that they don;t interfere with press freedom and media pluralism. Do you really have a problem with that?

They are not pro-provincialism, ergo they are anti-British press.

@ 7. Robin Levett

The point is Robin he who pays the piper usually calls the tune. Part of that calling the tune to be achieved by offering subsidies/bribes to compliant media. Are we to believe that press freedom and media pluralism only exists through the benevolence of the EU? Press freedom and pluralism already exists. Therefore, why does the EU need to introduce and monitor a system that already exists. It is a power grab through pretending that media regulation is a single market issue. Media councils monitored by the European Commission to ensure the media believe in democratic freedom is just doublespeak for control by the Commission.

Would we not find it strange if the British government required the British media to reflect the values of the British government. The media would be doing a service to plurality and irreverence by telling them to piss off. Media of all shades of opinion should reflect the values of the people who consume that media, not Commissioners. The key issue is it is not for the EU or anyone else to try and force conformity.

10. Robin Levett

@Richard W #9:

Would we not find it strange if the British government required the British media to reflect the values of the British government.

We would; similarly if the EU required EU media to reflect the values of the EU government. But you are quite deliberately misreading a call for press freedom as a call for press regulation. End of.

Richard W: “he who pays the piper usually calls the tune”

Yes Richard, and at the moment those paying the piper in the UK are a tiny elite. Ownership of the main media outlets is incredibly concentrated. And it appears that you like it this way.

You obviously find any challenge to that very threatening:

You write, “The very idea of promoting a European public sphere, the possible emergence of European media, increased European awareness within the national public spheres, or increased national coverage of European affairs, is still controversial”

Is it? it all sounds quite innocuous to me. So controversial with who exactly? Oh yes, with a tiny elite of media owners, the toadies who hang on their coat-tails, and any fools who believe their constant anti-EU propaganda, that’s who. You’re afraid that people in little Britain might have a chance of finding out that different ways of living and organising society are possible, and that these ways of going about things might actually benefit the ordinary man/woman in the street.

Well done Tim Fenton for spotting it. Most of the time the British media simply get away with this sort of distortion without being called on it.

11. white trash

” Yes Richard, and at the moment those paying the piper in the UK are a tiny elite. Ownership of the main media outlets is incredibly concentrated. And it appears that you like it this way. ”

Yes it is a tiny elite. The media council will compromise? (a) a tiny elite (b) not a tiny elite.

You are reading a lot into what I like. What I would like is most of the newspapers to hurry up and go bust, that is how much I support the tiny elite who publish newspapers. I am not the one arguing to support a failing business model with public subsidies. Good riddance is my attitude. New structures for the exchange of information will evolve.

You are attributing a Neelie Kroes quote to me.

” different ways of living and organising society ”

You should start a newspaper telling people about the different ways of living. Can’t fail if it is so popular.

Leaving aside whether we currently have “free and pluralistic” media in Britain, of all places, even this story’s populariser Toby Young, one of the people against whom his father tried to warn us and who has just been replaced with Louise Mensch (oh, the shame, the shame!), must be able to see that the likelihood of this scheme’s making it to the Council of Ministers and then being passed by that body is fairly remote.

In any case, what are “European values”? Conservatives who really are conservatives; during the furore over the nonissue of where and with whom Conservative MEPs were supposed to sit, the arch-libertarian Daniel Hannan read out on television some list of supposedly barking mad utterances by prominent Gaullists and Christian Democrats, only for his own readers on Telegraph Blogs to effuse most emphatically that they heartily approved of such sentiments and longed for British politicians to articulate them. Social Democratic opposition to, or simple bafflement at the mere concept of, enforced State secularism. Rooms-Rood-ery.

Integral to all of which is, for example, the recognition that real agriculture is the mainstay of strong communities, environmental responsibility and animal welfare (leading to safe, healthy and inexpensive food) as against “factory farming”, and that it is a clear example of the importance of central and local government action in safeguarding and delivering social, cultural, political and environmental goods against the ravages of the “free” market. Farm subsidies, which this country had for 30 years before going into what was really always the EU, are a thoroughly excellent idea. Provided that we run them ourselves, and provided that we establish and enforce the principle that no one should own land other than in order to make use of it.

But the Johnny-come-latelies who have colonised the cause of opposition to the EU want to abolish them completely. An important reason why there is no hope from the Conservative Party, which only the farmers really own, with everyone else as guests, often very high-paying guests in more ways than one. If the farmers thought that withdrawal from the EU would mean the end of farm subsidies, then they would block it through the Tory machine forever. Of course, it need not necessarily mean any such thing. On the contrary, it can only be brought about by a renewed British commitment to the independent embodiment of European values.

Forward, er, no back to the Corn Laws cries David Lindsay, aka Lord George Bentinck.

Marx roundly denounced the repeal of the Corn Laws. Whiggery is farthest from Socialism. Farm subsidies establish a principle applicable across a very wide range of economic activity.

” Marx roundly denounced the repeal of the Corn Laws. ”

Which is about the best endorsement for the repeal of the Corn Laws as it is possible to get. Always worthwhile judging issues based on who is opposed.

” Farm subsidies establish a principle applicable across a very wide range of economic activity. ”

The only principle established is troughers love them. If someone needs to be subsidised to produce food is a pretty good indication that they should not be producing food.

Admit it, you just don’t like farmers because of where they live and how they (usually) vote. There is no point of principle here. Not in your case.

Grew up in a semi rural small town. Spent a lot of time during my formative years on a friends farm. Was driving tractors when I was 14, forking silage to hungry cows at 7am in the freezing cold to fund my share buying. Where I live now is surrounded by little other than farms. So you could not be more wrong, David.


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