August 24, 2015
A day in the Life (The Beatles – 1967 – 5’06) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPSR9K7tzPc [Pse play this when reading]
Each morning I take 30 minutes to look at the world in general and Europe in particular. Generally before starting to work, unless there is an urgent matter to address – and by 11am as a rule.
For the last ten years I used to read a summary of the Financial Times – called the FirstFT recently, then the Commission’s press review, then my Euractiv feeds and finally, if there was time, I skimmed the Corriere della Sera website and the feeds of European Voice – a paper started by The Economist in the ‘90s to cover European affairs from Brussels.
But I usually read the paper version of the European Voice on weekends, starting by the vital fix of Edward Lucas on what was going on in the Eastern part of Europe, where I have a few cousins. This happened after my first week-end treat: reading The Economist – in its paper version. My second treat came at the end of the week-end, with “La semaine des Guignols” on Canal+ – allowing me to catch up in a humorous way with what had happened over the week in France.
This routine has been much affected over these years by the light-fast modifications of information and communication technologies (ICT). Light-fast compared to the speed at which ICTs developed since Lascaux’s paintings, Giza’s writing and Gutenberg’s press. An excellent report by the UK House of Lords (which is to be credited for this post’s picture) analysed in 2012 consequences of Technologies and Media Ownership. In particular, it looked at the consequences of Media Ownership for Media Plurality and Public Interest. The questions it poses are challenging:
- What are the options for measuring media plurality across platforms?
- Is it practical or advisable to set absolute limits on news market share?
- What could trigger a review of plurality in the absence of a merger, how might this be monitored and by whom?
- Could or should a framework for measuring levels of plurality include websites and if so which ones?
- Whether or how it should include the BBC?
And then, last year, faster than light, we moved in relativistic time and my cosy routine was rocked: a US / German joint venture called Politico (Europe) bought up the European Voice and many of Brussels’ hacks – including some from Euractiv. This gave a more raucous tone to my week-ends, but it enriched my mornings with a quality daily Health review.
Last month, a Friday I remember, I was shocked by reading that Pearsons would have sold the Financial Times to Nikkei of Japan. Just when I was looking forward to the FT’s coverage of the UK Referendum on Europe.
Last week I read that Pearsons was also considering selling its majority stake in The Economist. And that Mr. Bolloré – heading the Vivendi group which bought Canal+ some time ago – considered putting “Les Guignols” on a more confidential and encrypted slot to avoid that they embarrass some of his business or political friends (and censored a documentary criticinsing one of his chums).
Consider the influence Media groups have on the political debate:
* in the US – where Fox News appears to frame the Republican primary, to start with;
* in my birthplace Italy – where Berlusconi’s media hiss or purr depending on people, not their ideas or views;
* in my graduation place France – where the cosy relations between Mr. Sarkozy and most of French press influenced much of local policies
Media are the fourth power, the one that keeps the others in balance and allows for political debate and opinion forming. Most media pundits say Europe lacks such a sphere of European actors allowing European opinions to form and informed debates to take place. Developing and enlarging such a sphere was one of the aims of Euractiv – which remains amongst the few independent media covering Europe today.
The FT and The Economist are two other such European actors – as they are read by most current actors who meet in Brussels, to develop European policies and react to national and European crisis. The BBC and Euronews are two other actors, impacting more on our sensitive visual cortex. Their independence is also threatened as public information services are challenged both from ethical grounds (are they legitimate?) as from financial ones (are they effective?).
I cannot but fear that North-American and Japanese habits and views will seep through Politico and the FT. They already are visible in the confrontational approach to EU politics as they are presented in Politico Europe. What would a Petromonarch do with The Economist and its investigative and insightful articles*? Who will free Canal+ puppets? Who will protect and nurture Europe’s fourth power? Which website will I turn to when looking for a quality source on a story I read on the each day wider and worlder web (currently Euractiv, then BBC…)?
As Robin Lusting, of BBC, said recently commenting the debate going on in at least three continents “Who are the people who want to dilute the influence of public broadcasting? They are either commercial rivals who fear they are not making as much money as they would be able to, were it not for the public service broadcasters – or they are governments who want to have more control over what’s being said”.
This is one of the reasons I have taken to writing this Blog. After 50 years of living and breathing Europe; after 25 years of living and breathing in the European Commission, I’d love to turn you on.
So pse reply, contradict ant rebut my views. Praise and consent flatter my ego, but debate makes me learn new things (if I yield to new arguments) or strengthen my views, when I can build new mental bridges across arguments – thus making a least one of my days.
* This blog post was written before learning – with some relief – that the – that the Exor group, stemming from my native Torino, took a majority stake in the group…
NoA – This post is private and personal. It does not represent views of the Commission for which I work. Re-publishing is possible under Copyleft principles. I would appreciate being informed and quoted.Eurobrat