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Member of the European Commission responsible for Information Society and Media
Europe's Magazines and the new media – way ahead
FAEP Gala Reception "Empowering citizens – the magazine media"
Brussels, 7 October 2009
Ladies & gentlemen
Tonight's theme is empowerment: empowering citizens through the medium of magazines. Magazines play a vital role in Europe. Their form, their editorial content focused on specific issues and their analytical approach make them an important component of our media scene.
You know that Brussels has always been a very busy place. However, when it comes to media policy we are in a particular situation. We are like the man in a traditional Chinese tale who was always carrying with him an empty vessel to remind him of the value of emptiness, to remind him not to impose his own values but rather to offer an empty space for others to fill. In this sense, we have to leave some empty space not filled with political initiatives.
The same image goes for magazines. The word "magazine" comes from the Arabic for a storehouse, Makasin ; the initial value of a storehouse lies in its emptiness, which the owner then fills up with goods. You publishers fill the empty pages (paper or web pages) in order to empower your readers. That is your role. In public policy terms, there has to be a free space around written media; that's essential to the freedom of the press.
Take advertising for instance. With the President's support I drew a line in the sand at the start of this Commission: "No more advertising bans". The political pledge became true. The Commission did not decide on any further advertising bans. We even managed to liberalise advertising in the audiovisual sector through the Audiovisual Media Services Directive. Broadcasters now have greater flexibility, following the abolition of the daily limit on advertising and the easing of the rules on insertion.
So this Commission has achieved two positive things on the advertising front, one by taking an initiative in a regulated area and another by holding back on regulation. But the potential threat to advertising is no longer binary – ban or no ban – it encompasses new forms. Our Media Task Force has the explicit mandate to screen all new Commission proposals touching the press. Like FAEP, the Media Task Force has devoted a great deal of time to labelling issues lately. Labels of course have an honourable history in public policy. They contain information in the public interest, normally in a standardised format, that communicates the formulation of a product; or, more recently, they can take the form of a warning. On product packaging, they are a helpful aid to consumers. Labelling obligations are certainly better than bans.
But like all good instruments, they risk to be extended beyond their original context. That is why we now face an increasing number of calls – many of them originating in national capitals, as you know – to include labelling information in advertising: first with regard to cars and now concerning energy-consuming products such as tyres. From a political perspective, I can see the appeal of extending labelling requirements to advertising. Such measures cost the public purse nothing, and there are often worthy public policy interests at stake.
But there are also multiple problems.
A good example is CO2 emissions where the study 1 underlying the draft impact assessment did not marshal a real reason of justification. The risk is that the media carry the cost at a time when advertising revenues are falling; and that labelling in itself isn't very effective. Particularly in the area of public health, experts acknowledge complex, multi-layered causality behind human behaviour, but many still favour advertising restrictions.
So, t he Media Task Force must continue to be vigilant on labelling issues in future because I foresee that those labelling measures that I have kicked out will come back in the next years. One could almost say that the more Member States there are, the more ideas are brought to Brussels on new advertising rules. That is why you have to continue to be very cautious concerning this matter.
I know well that Media Pluralism is a perennial favourite for many members of the European Parliament. I personally am rather sceptical about any harmonised "one size fits all" approach to media governance in the EU. That's why I set out the three step plan for monitoring media pluralism. Note: I said monitoring, not regulating; aufpassen, nicht immer gleich regulieren. I say this in German just so that everyone really understands!
We have this September completed the second step, the study to devise a system for measuring media pluralism. The physicist Lord Kelvin said "To measure is to know". We need this monitoring tool because of continuing political concern about media pluralism expressed in the European Parliament and in civil society. The restructuring of the media sector under the twin impacts of new technology and economic crisis means that the problem will grow in future. So doing nothing is not an option.
We of course do not want a harmonising directive on ownership. The exclusive focus on ownership is in our view inappropriate in a period of structural change. A solid analysis of media pluralism must be broader and also cover combinations of political and media power.
T he European Parliament's Mikko report has endorsed the broad outline of the Commission approach. I know that nevertheless some stakeholders don't like the indicators and are concerned that monitoring media pluralism will lead to unwanted regulation.
They are mistaken. I firmly believe that in order to preserve our pluralist and free societies, we need the monitoring of freedom of the media and of media pluralism. Only this will demonstrate in a convincing manner that legislation is really not needed at EU level. It is therefore in your own interest that there is a regular, objective and fair monitoring. The study on media pluralism brings together disciplines that were either addressing media pluralism separately – law and social science – or were more or less excluded from the debate: economics and technology. It uses a risk-based approach; this is helpful for limiting concerns to concrete threats, rather than propagating clouds of vague concerns.
What next on media pluralism? The third step of the plan has still to be presented… by the next Commission. "Watch this space", is my advice – even though this will of course be a job for my successor in the position of INFSO and Media Commissioner.
My final reflection this evening is on Europe's very own virtual Makasin , the common access point to all the online storehouses for Europe's cultural and scientific heritage . Europeana – the European Digital Library – currently allows Internet users across the world to access almost 5 million digital objects: books, maps, sound recordings, photographs, archival documents, paintings, films and, last but not least, also content from newspapers, magazines, journals. These items have been digitized and fed into Europeana by cultural institutions of the EU Member States. Europeana collections have more than doubled since the launch in November 2008, and it will double again by end 2010, with a target of 10 million cultural objects.
Europeana also concerns magazine publishers. You can find already today interesting collections: as a Luxembourger it is for me an experience to browse though the hundreds fully digitized issues of " L'Illustré Luxembourgeois – Luxemburger Illustrierte ", and discover the Luxembourgish society in the twenties and thirties. Other examples are available from other European countries. But what is currently available is still a drop in the ocean. Much more needs to be done, and saying this, I am well aware of the financial, legal and technological challenges that we face in when digitising collections and making them available on line.
To facilitate a better framework for digitisation, we are working on the basis of few basic principles and ideas : 1) copyright rules must be fully respected to ensure fair remuneration of right holders; this is European law, and there can be no compromise on this; 2) public-private partnerships need to be encouraged as a means to boost digitisation; 3) Europe's fragmented copyright legislation needs to be looked at in order to exploit the potential of digital technologies, for example by making cross-border licensing easier, and to facilitate the digitisation and access to orphan and out-of-print works . A public consultation on digital libraries and the future of Europeana is currently open on this, and I invite you to provide your views by 15 November. Copyright will certainly be a major pitch of work for the new Commission.
Magazines empower the public. I call on publishers to help empower Europeana. We must ensure that old magazines, whether or not under copyright, are digitised and made available online. The concept of EUROPEANA, which is primarily based on a cooperation framework between libraries, archives, and museums, foresees that private content holders can decide to make their in-copyright content searchable and accessible through the common portal.
In Europe there are already examples where press publishers have developed agreements for the digitisation and online availability of in-copyright works. This clearly indicates that in-copyright works can be brought online, with appropriate arrangements, for the benefit of users, creators and right holders. In order to make content available though Europeana, this type of agreements should provide full online access and not be limited to users from the country of origin only, or for specific limited purposes such as education or research. The Commission's High Level Expert Group on Digital Libraries has developed a model licence to simplify digitisation and access to out of print works which could be well adapted to the digitisation of magazine content.
In the area of "orphan works", works whose authors are unknown or untraceable, FAEP was actively involved in the process that led to the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding on diligent search guidelines for "orphan works". This is an important step, but a regulatory intervention might be necessary, too.
I would finally like to stress the importance of digital preservation; not only for your digitized historical collections, but also for the born-digital content you produce daily. Who is preserving today's new on-line publications? Are we certain that we will make all this content accessible for future generations? If we don't want to lose the information we publish every day on the web, action needs to be taken using techniques such as the "web harvesting". We count on press publishers to participate actively in the new digital preservation strategies being developed at national level to preserve web content.
I encourage you, as magazine publishers, to bring your content online, to make it available through Europeana in parallel, and to preserve it for future generations. Online technologies and digital libraries can bring the periodical press improved visibility and will deliver great business opportunities in due course .