In order to respond to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregård , the EFJ Director and EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez held an online meeting with the Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová.
We expressed our strong concern regarding the emergency measures against press freedom taken by a number of European states, starting with Hungary.
COVID-19 is spawning a global press-freedom crackdown. In the face of this pandemic, European citizens need professional, economically secure journalists more than ever. The EU should take action and encourage its Member States to take action.
Regarding the issue of disinformation, we repeated that professional journalism, ethical journalism, media literacy and transparency are the best antidotes to disinformation.
A credible EU plan to combat disinformation must necessarily integrate these four dimensions:
Support to Professional journalism
Self-regulatory bodies (press councils) in each European country
Engagement in Media and Information Literacy
Strong policies on Transparency and Access to Information
We also called on the EU to support economically the media sector, as a vital sector for democracy. We told Ms Jourova that the EU must get each of its member states to launch a media recovery plan without delay. Instead of corporate tax cuts or social security cuts and stock buybacks, we need targeted measures that will put more reporters on the ground.
The EU and national media recovery plans should include:
Increasing national funding for public media;
Direct financial support for daily and weekly newsrooms (direct, emergency subsidies to fund newsroom jobs at commercial outlets committed to local coverage; deferred or no-interest business loans; tax credits on newsrooms staff wages; household tax credits for paid subscriptions to local news outlets; increased EU or government public-service advertising in local outlets…). Subsidies will be distributed by an independent body, taking into consideration objective criteria (demonstrated loss of advertising revenue, endangered independent local media);
EU and National News Innovation Funds to support, via an independent body including journalists’ organisations, new approaches to newsgathering, specifically at local or community level. This body will distribute grants to support independent, community-based, investigative journalism and news start-ups, among other innovations. These funds could be sustained through a small tax (2%) on targeted online ads on online platforms.
Printed or online media subscription vouchers offered to all EU citizens aged 18 and 19.
The Vice President of the European Commission promised us that she would relay these demands and see us again in two weeks. In the meantime, she urges all national journalists’ organisations to press their respective governments for specific state aid. She guaranteed that the European Commission would not oppose the granting of such aid under any circumstances.
We know that some of you have already obtained direct aid for journalists (notably in Italy and Malta). We ask you to share this information with the EFJ Secretariat so that we can disseminate it to all affiliates. This would be an act of solidarity.
Free flow of information
Thank you also for letting us know whether journalists in your countries enjoy freedom of movement and the possibility to cross borders in the course of their work (several states offer this possibility to “vital” and “crucial” professions; we told Ms Jourova that journalism should be regarded as a vital profession).
Finally, we invite you to visit the new COVID-19 section on our website, dedicated to relevant actions and resources, says in a letter from EFJ to its members