By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, January 22, 2013 11:09 EST
A series of recommendations issued Monday (PDF) by the European Union’s “High Level Group” proposes the establishment of “media councils” in every member state that would be monitored by the European Commission and given the power to fine, censor and even fire individual journalists if deemed appropriate.
“Media councils should have real enforcement powers, such as the imposition of fines, orders for printed or broadcast apologies, or removal of journalistic status,” one of the group’s recommendations suggests. “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.”
Another recommendation pertaining to media councils advises that they be staffed “with a politically and culturally balanced and socially diverse membership,” with lawmakers — not journalists or publishers — making the nominations.
The document also proposes the extension of libel laws uniformly across the EU, along with the establishment of an Internet user database that would identify and track “those responsible for harming others through the media, even in the online space.”
“Having EU officials overseeing our free press – and monitoring newspapers to ensure they comply with ‘European values’ – would be quite simply intolerable,” British MP Douglas Carswell told The Telegraph. “This is the sort of mind-set that I would expect to find in Iran, not the West. This kooky idea tells us little about the future of press regulation. It does suggest that the European project is ultimately incompatible with the notion of a free society.”
The High Level Group was formed in 2011 with the intent of studying “freedom and pluralism of the media across the EU.” It also takes a few shots at American media juggernaut News Corporation, citing the company’s rampant bribery of police officers in Britain, phone and email hacking, and the prime minister’s reluctance to implement new media rules.
While the document the group produced tries to balance its draconian enforcement recommendations with an overwhelming emphasis on “freedom and pluralism,” the authors also concede that the public could come to view the proposals differently.
“With the kind of chequered past of authoritarian or totalitarian rule that Europe has experienced within the last 100 years, it is small wonder that its citizens should feel extremely sensitive about any possibility of relapse in terms of political control of the media,” they explained. “The debates surrounding a number of recent resolutions passed by the European Parliament attest to this legitimate concern.”
For all its faults…