Source: Committe of Regions
The accelerated move to digital distribution channels, changed consumer habits and falling advertising revenues jeopardize local media’s business cases and independence. The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) welcomes the Action Plan proposed by the European Commission but highlights the importance of taking into account the particularly alarming financial situation of local and regional media. In a multilevel political system like the European democracy, smaller media outlets directly in touch with citizens’ concerns are critical to securing democratic control and legitimacy, argues the opinion drafted by rapporteur Jan Trei (EE/EPP), Member of Viimsi Rural Municipality Council, which was presented at the CoR’s May plenary session.
A cornerstone of a sane and sustainable democracy, pluralistic media landscapes provide citizens with trustworthy information and platforms for open political debate. But commercial pressures and a rapidly changing technological foundation threaten the diversity and independence of media across Europe.
Referring to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, CoR members therefore called for increased financial assistance and welcomed the Commission’s plan to streamline the support for the audio-visual and news media sectors under the cross-sectoral strand of the Creative Europe programme 2021-2027. They highlighted that financial support should be provided in a way that respects and promotes media freedom and pluralism.
CoR-rapporteur Jan Trei (EE/EPP), Member of Viimsi Rural Municipality Council, said “ The COVID-19 crisis highlights very clearly the need for a strong press as an institution which informs society in a fact-based and balanced way to enable an open debate. At the same time, the economic recession caused by the crisis has impaired the ability of the media to take on its responsibilities. In order to maintain high-quality press standards at all levels, support measures are needed – in particular to ensure the survival of local and regional media companies. Critical attention must be paid to the situation of small countries, where, due to the small size of the market, the resources for local and regional media to exist are limited. ”
Mr Trei’s opinion points out that any future legislation and support measures have to take a differentiated tack with regard to the distinct economic situation of local and regional media. While large national and European media enterprises are currently challenged by external competition from American technology giants and the platform economy – a problem which should be addressed by application of the new Digital Services Act package –, the challenges for smaller local and regional newspapers and radios look very different: Bound to geographically limited audiences and target groups, their potential for growth is often limited. To prevent the emergence of “news deserts” in sparsely populated areas, regional public service media should widen their regional coverage and stay accessible to audiences via a broad range of communication channels, members said.
” The absence of a sufficient legal, regulatory and policy framework in the digital ecosystem hampered a successful transition for the media sector already before the COVID-19 outbreak. Local and regional media are in a particularly dire situation. We need a comprehensive strategy in order to restore the economic viability of the European media sector. We need to help European media outlets to recover, ensure a level playing field between them and new market entrants, and support their transformation “, said Dace Melbārde (LV/ECR), Vice-Chair of the Committee on Culture and Education of the European Parliament, who had joined the plenary debate.
The opinion will be officially adopted by the members of the European Committee of the regions on 7 May via electronic vote.