We need to create conditions for an economically sustainable, pluralistic media ecosystem in Europe. A strategic information system for the European media industry should encompass the potential of new technologies.
The adoption of a new strategy to defend European media sovereignty is the conclusion of the Towards European Media Sovereignty report by the European Commission. It contains 14 points based on the voices of the most important representatives of media publishers and technology companies on the continent.
European Media Sovereignty
We asked the author of the report, Guillaume Klossa, whether we can actually talk about European media sovereignty, and what it really is? Special adviser to the Vice-Commissar Andrus Ansip presented this concept in a broader historical context.
European post-war liberal societies developed on the basis of pluralistic independent national media – our interlocutor began. They fulfilled two purposes. On the one hand, they contributed to strengthening democracy by providing citizens with high-quality information, and on the other hand, they also supported the social market economy.
With globalisation and the development of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, we have entered a new reality. Media are no longer only a national but a transnational matter. There is a supranational competition.
However, good cooperation for Europe and its Member States in the framework of living democracies and a well-functioning economy needs a variety of high-quality information. It must be independent of non-European sources.
Therefore, for Klossa, the challenge is to create the conditions for an economically sustainable, pluralistic media ecosystem in Europe.
After a meeting with over 70 interested players across Europe – media platforms, scientists and researchers from all around the world – we propose to develop a strategic system for the European media industry, exploiting the potential of new technologies.
Protecting Competitiveness and Democracy
The aim of the recommendations is to create a new strategy for the media industry that would allow the use of upcoming technology acquisitions – from artificial intelligence (AI) to blockchain – to regain control and competitiveness with global entities that seek to dominate our market. The case is serious. It does not concern the key-economy sector from the point of view of the contribution to GDP, but it is crucial from the value system perspective of European democracies.
Asked about his aims, the special adviser of the Vice-président of the European Commission Ansip remarked:
It is about enabling a European infrastructure able to create good quality content, distribute it and recover economic value.
Currently, 80 per cent of digital advertising is the responsibility of two global platforms – Facebook and Google. We need more diversity if we want to preserve the economic value of the media in Europe.
Otherwise, they will not be able to create a business model that allows them independence in the next five years. Currently, we are dealing with an internal collapse of the media system. Publishers are unable to find financing.
We are afraid that the report will become just another document, but Klossa’s reply that the European Commission is working on how to practically implement the recommendations from this report; how to develop a road map that the new European Commission could immediately adopt and implement.
We ask, then, what they would consist of.
We propose the creation of a digital fund in the amount of 1 billion euro to finance the digital transformation of media outlets and the implementation of AI and blockchain strategies. It would be intended for both large and small, old and new, those who carry out valuable projects.
In addition, we would like to allocate 3 per cent from the next “Horizon” (framework programme funding research, technological development, and innovation) for creative industries and the media sector, which amounts to 3 billion euro. We also encourage the creation of joint ventures that would allow media access to data scientists, algorithm specialists, etc.
It is very difficult because many people from the industry are now departing to technological non-European giants from outside Europe. So we struggle to find the skilful people for the media sector.
This is about researchers, IT programmers, data specialists and algorithm developers.
We also propose – enumerated Klossa – to draw up a new civil law instrument: the right to know the purpose of the algorithm in connection with the distribution of content.
Some European companies, such as the Guardian, are already working on it. Citizens can already control the data in some cases, we recommend that this option also exists for content consultation. Blockchain technology allows the users to know and manage data about themselves owned by media.
The report underlines the importance of the methods of protecting the confidential information that has become a new currency in the world of digital media. The EU has acted in defence of the privacy of its citizens, but it has to face many of the other challenges that follow the digital transformation in this market.
The report emphasises that the same technologies that can contribute to the competitiveness of the industry, i.e. the methods of verifying the identity and preparing increasingly personalised functions for recipients, are simultaneously used in disinformation and criminal activities.
That is why on the eve of the election to the European Parliament, the establishment of a new European Council and the closing of negotiations on the EU budget for 2021-2027, there is a call for a new regulatory framework that will increase the chances of the European media industry in the competition with hi-tech giants, and consequently ensure the media sovereignty for Europeans.
Using digital devices, it is very easy to know what the user is reading and for how long. This is very confidential information that can help someone to define user views. Therefore, it is important to know what data the media possess, and what is happening to them and to have access to them.
GDPR solves this problem only partially. At the time you give your consent, it does not let you know exactly what data is in your possession, nor does it allow you to recover them when you want, Klossa notes. When we ask for an example of the implementation of this solution, he cites the regional group Sud Ouest in France, which is experimenting with this type of blockchain technology.
Our interlocutor did not fail to mention on this occasion of the key role of the relevant controlling institutions.
It is also very important that we develop a competition and regulatory tool to have access to the data collected by the platforms. In the US there is the Federal Trade Commission, which may have access to data from platforms such as Facebook or Google. We do not have such an institution in Europe.
Therefore, according to Klossa, we need a European digital regulation authority that would have access to data, and that would have control on experimenting with algorithms and may check how they work and how they broadcast information. Such an institution could establish and implement regulations in the interest of European citizens.
Who is to be sovereign?
Finally, we asked Guillaume Klossa for his comment on the challenges of introducing such a strategy, not only to the media industry, but also to the sovereignty of the nation. We underlined, however, that we didn’t mean by that the government’s sovereignty, which is currently the case of Hungary, where the government is deepening control of data and the media. He answered:
The main question is, what kind of society do we want? Should sovereignty belong to people or to publishing platforms? I would not tangle in nations because that is a wider phenomenon. As Europeans, we have created the European Convention on Human Rights, and we must respect it. The provisions of the Convention are at the heart of European DNA.
The material was prepared by Wojciech Przybylski and Piotr Górski