Pan-European Forum on Media Pluralism & New Media
27 June 2012, European Parliament, Brussels

The forum was organised by the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn (UK) and the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (Florence, Italy). The three main themes or issues were a) do new media broaden or narrow our spectrum of diverse views? b) Is “global” the appropriate level to address the challenges and c) how to create a “web of diversity”? Best practices and further steps. Apart from these three panel discussions, there were two sub-themes “media ownership and concentration” and “changing business models in book and music publishing”.
The panels consisted of 6 speakers, 5 discussants and a moderator. Time permitting, questions from the floor were also taken.
I took part in panel discussion b) on future regulation. In my presentation I outlined the work the CDMSI (under various names) had done over the last 30 years and is currently engaged in laying emphasis on the need for genuine cooperation with the EU in order to avoid duplication and unnecessary overlap. I also pointed out the problems (real or perceived) in situations where the EC flexed its muscles regarding exclusive competencies and how this can lead to disruption of the level playing field of rules within the Council of Europe. In what little discussion there was after the panelists’ presentations, Stephen Pearse of the EFJ pointed out that a problem was that the already existing European standards were not being enforced.
Although no conclusions were reached or decisions taken, there were some memorable contributions; Ben Hammersley of the EC High Level Expert Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism reported that his group would be reporting at the end of November and there would be some radical suggestions. He did not elaborate on what these might be.
The European Citizens’ Initiative for Media Pluralism is an interesting project whereby it is hoped to gather 1 million signatures (as envisaged in the Lisbon Treaty to force the EC to act. The Initiative is taking the fight for pluralism outside the traditional discourse of media, experts and scholars to the citizens including NGOs and minorities.
BBC director Helen Boaden commented on the risks presented by citizen journalism in that user generated content had to be thoroughly checked because not doing so could endanger the public trust in the BBC. Bob Collins, the Chair of the Irish Broadcasting Authority quipped that he was as wary of citizen journalists as he was of citizen doctors!
A very courageous and worrying contribution was made by Yevgenia Albats, chief editor of Russia’s New Times magazine in which, among other things, she said, “I come from a country where democracy is not the rule of the game.”
Of particular interest and why there were so many participants, at least for the two sub-themes, was the presence of British actor Hugh Grant and, to a lesser extent, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason and 1960s pop star Sandie Shaw. Grant advocated the introduction of EU legislation on media concentration and became involved in a robust exchange with the panellist sitting next to him, Ms Gina Nieri, a board member of S. Berlusconi’s Mediaset concern.
Considering the number of speakers (56) and the number of registrations (788), it was apparent from the outset that this would not be a forum in the classical sense and as organiser Peggy Valcke admitted, there was only little time to go deep into the issues - reaching any decisions would have been an impossible task. However, the forum was notable in that this was the first time the European Parliament’s Hemicycle Debating Chamber had been permitted to be used for such a conference, the presence of Hugh Grant guaranteed international publicity for the event albeit confined to media concentration issues and the forum presented a very valuable networking opportunity.

Andris Mellakauls
Chair CDMSI
17.07.2012