EU: Media Pluralism Monitor shows worrying results

by Ana Ribeiro

"No EU member state is today free from risks for media pluralism," says a statement posted on the website of the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF), which carried out the MPM2015 report. The ongoing multiple-year study, funded by the European Commission, will have its final phase in 2016.

Media Pluralism_900 Five of the 19 countries analysed were classified in the report as being at "high risk" in terms of "Market Plurality". (Source: Media Pluralism Monitor 2015)

The Media Pluralism Monitor 2015 analysed media freedom and pluralism indicators in 19 EU member states: Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. The CMPF explains that "the risks for media pluralism are examined [under] different aspects and potential threats… in a systematic and holistic way, being related to four comprehensive main thematic domains: Basic Protection, Market Plurality, Political Independence and Social Inclusiveness."

When finished, the study aims to present results on all 28 EU member states plus accession candidates Turkey and Montenegro.

High "basic protection" for freedom of expression

The "Basic Protection"-domain looks into mechanisms in place to protect journalists, freedom of expression and access to information, as well as the independence of communications-related authorities in each country. It boils down to the risk of democratic debate being impaired, an important basis for all the other monitoring categories, according to the CMPF. Of the 19 countries, Romania was identified as being at "medium risk", and the rest as "low risk".

The area of highest concern for Romania under this particular measure was the level of journalistic standards and protection, for which the CMPF gave a risk score of 67%. It explained in the report: "Journalists in a precarious economic situation… have [neither] the professional support of journalistic standards/codes of ethics/conduct… [nor] the legal mechanisms granting social protection… in the case of changes of ownership or editorial line."

Finland: Media freedom champion gets surprising results

The picture is grimmer in terms of "Market Plurality", the domain dealing with the level of transparency, concentration, influence and fairness related to media ownership and news dissemination within a country. Five of the 19 countries -  Spain, Luxembourg, Poland, Lithuania and Finland – were classified in the report as being at "high risk". Romania was placed into the "medium risk"-bracket also for this category, along with the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden. The remaining five countries – Croatia, Cyprus, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia – were identified as "low risk", all of them having some measures in place against high concentration of media ownership.  

Finland, which ranked the highest in the Reporters Without Borders‘ 2015 Press Freedom Index, was given an overall score of 75% by the CMPF in terms of risk to "Market Plurality"; this included a risk score of 100% in the category of "concentration of cross-media ownership". The report estimated that the ownership of 90% of both Internet and audiovisual media, 79% of radio stations and 68% of newspapers is concentrated within the four largest media companies in the country.

The same companies also get a huge share of the audience: 92% for audiovisual and 83% for radio. Eight companies control up to 98% of the entire media market in Finland, the report added, noting "that neither the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA), nor any other official body, routinely monitors market concentration in these sectors."

No equal access to media

On the other hand, the report found Finland to be at "low risk" in the domain of "Political Independence", as Finnish law has mechanisms in place against "political bias in the media", and politicised ownership of media in the country appears to be minimal. Luxembourg, which was also identified as a "high risk"-country in terms of "Market Plurality", had a "low risk" score in "Political Independence" similar to Finland’s: 22%. The CMPF stated that "despite traditionally close links to parties and interest groups, a tendency to move away from these, especially in terms of editorial policy and their directorates, can be observed," as well as regulations enforcing fairness in news reporting. Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden are also in the "low risk" bracket, while the rest of the countries are at "medium risk", according to the report.

The report’s final thematic domain, "Social Inclusiveness", measures "access to and availability of media for different, and particularly vulnerable, groups of population." Finland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden were placed at "low risk" in this category, while the 14 other EU countries analysed scored at "medium risk" percentages.

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The full Media Pluralism Monitor 2015 (#MPM2015) can be found here.

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