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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Keynote speech by President Barroso at the ENPA's (European Newspaper Publishers' Association) 50th Anniversary Congress
Brussels, 8 November 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my absolute pleasure to join you today for this Congress to mark the 50th anniversary of the European Newspaper Publishers Association.
Your association is the steward of a great tradition, a legacy that is globally respected in its intellectual richness and dexterity. Steward of an industry that has a very important role as a liberating force and guardian of our shared values.
You are the heirs to a tradition that dates well before the technologies that made modern newspapers possible. It was the Roman Senate who gave us the first example of newsprint – the Acta Diurna (daily public record) and the philosophy of “publicare et propagare” (make public and propagate). In modern times and capitalising on the printing press we date the first modern newspaper back to 1457. And today we can claim records as varied as Wiener Zeitung from Austria being the longest continuously published newspaper in the world, to Cyprus alone giving rise to more than 350 newspapers since the first was established there in 1878. Let me also speak with affection of Açoriano Oriental, the eldest newspaper of my country, which is published without interruption since 1835 on the eastern island of the Açores.
I mention these historical achievements because in a time of profound change and challenge, it can be easy to overlook the unique place your publications occupy. It is a place that gives you a platform for change and a voice of legitimacy few others share in this very challenging, but also complicated and sometimes difficult era. I speak very personally on that note - both in terms of my affection for newspapers, and in my daily experience of the twin crises Europe has faced since 2008.
It is a fact that my conception of Europe and of the world simply could not exist without newspapers. I would not be the same person today, and nor would I be standing before you in this capacity, were it not for the light that newspapers so often sparked in me.
This is a passion I discovered early in life, even before a free press was possible in my country, Portugal. I remember well when the newspaper was distributed at that time in my country. I was living on the first floor and I was expecting the person that was distributing the newspaper so I could read it before my father. My father did not like when I gave the newspaper to him already open and not in the best possible form. This was before democracy came to my country in 1974, when I was 18 years old. But for me, that contact with the printed word, with the possibility of having this kind of openness, even in a closed system, to other parts of the world, was indeed so important and I think for many people in my generation and in many other generations. So, I really want to tell you that I love the intellectual appetite that good newspapers feed. I love their touch, their design and the sense of ritual one derives from starting the day with diverse perspectives on our complex, difficult, but always fascinating world.
In these ways newspapers plug me into the day ahead, but they also spirit me away to a different place of mind. So it can be no wonder that each morning I consume them like a second breakfast.
Of course, I cannot fail to mention that these days I also go beyond the traditional print medium. I also do use an iPad to read news. And I am in awe of the beauty and innovative thinking that lies behind its conception. But the important point for me is that tablet devices can never replace the idea of newsprint. They are a complement, but not a replacement, and I think there are hundreds of millions and possibly billions who will agree with me.
It is, after all, newsprint that is the universal and instant symbol for the world of the ideas of freedom and democracy and debate.
This leads me to some of the more specific points I wanted to briefly make with you today.
The media pluralism you defend - and deliver - is a fundamental value in democratic societies. You are part of the so impressive platform upon which democracy is built. If I may remind you, I am sure you know that quote, it was Thomas Jefferson who said:
"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter."
I don’t think that is the choice we face, of course. Nevertheless, you understand what I mean when I speak about the important role that you have in European society.
We have seen in the last week the firebombing of the offices of the French publication Charlie Hebdo. Attacks of this nature on press freedom are horrifying and unacceptable. Freedom of expression and the freedom of the press are two non-negotiable freedoms that lie at the very heart of our democratic societies. They are essential core values of the European Union and you can be assured that the Commission will continue to defend them vigorously. We have done it in the past, we will do that in the future.
It is this freedom of expression that constitutes one of the essential foundations of the European Union. It is this freedom that has inspired so many to join our Union; that distinguishes our cherished recent history from our darker past; and is secured in our Treaties and in Article 11 of our Charter of Fundamental Rights.
I am convinced that the state should not participate in controlling the news media in a democracy and should refrain from interfering into media editorial independence, except by fostering accountability and of course the high standards of the profession. We are not here to judge taste or limit debate, or to strictly codify the journalistic profession.
What we must do, however, is enforce the European Union laws that uphold our freedoms. You will recall our efforts to ensure national compliance these laws. The European Commission once again successfully stood up to ensure this compliance in 2011, during debates on one of our Member State's new Media Law. It is such efforts that synthesise the best of the European Union with the best of democracy.
Furthermore our determination to protect these freedoms is systemic and pro-active, not merely reactive. Most recently, this readiness to ensure a vibrant, plural and free media is exemplified by the Commission establishing a Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom in Florence with a €600 000 grant. The Centre will be based in the European University Institute's (EUI) Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, starting in December 2011, next month. This news follows the recent appointment of a new High Level Committee on Freedom and Pluralism of the Media. This body will advise and provide recommendations for the respect, protection, support and promotion of media freedom and pluralism in Europe. Chaired by the former President of Latvia, Professor Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, we could not hope for a more suitable and esteemed group to lead this work.
The Commission and I personally feel such an urgency around these issues, not only for their inherent value, but because they strike at the heart of the ideal of Europe and a European public space.
Newspapers have a role, indeed a responsibility, for contributing to creating and maintaining such a space. Without great newspapers, a part of the European dream would not survive.
So we strike a fine balance when we form views and policies on newspapers and the issues that affect newspapers. We strike a balance between upholding a level playing field but ensuring Europeans can access a pluralistic press no matter where they live or what language they speak. We strike a balance between striving to ensure high standards without unduly interfering in the operations of a publication.
Policymakers are not the only ones needing to strike a delicate balance.
I would now like to touch on the structural reform challenge facing the newspaper industry. That term – structural reform – is more frequently associated with national economies and public spending. But it is equally relevant, I believe, to the newspaper industry.
Some observers would say the written press, like government, has also been dealing with twin crises in recent years. Firstly, the shock of declining revenues, partly driven by those financial and economic crises. Secondly, the profound effects of the digital revolution.
But for all the loss of titles, readers and journalist jobs it would be an injustice to your sector to frame your situation as a deep crisis. There are great difficulties; this is clear. Very important challenges; of course there are. But I do not want to generalise about your industry, not least because of its great diversity, its great plurality across the various formats, readerships and languages. Most of all, I am reluctant to buy into the glamour of pessimism that can surround the newspaper industry today - because it is clear to me that there are many opportunities to seize in this digital era. And there are hundreds if not thousands of European publications seizing them with both hands. In my many contacts with the press all over Europe, I am very often in contact with important success cases, sometimes in countries or in places I would not expect to. But I meet those journalists, I meet those editors and they tell me: "this is going well, we are achieving progress."
For example, while the UK press could never be accused of being Europhiles, one cannot say UK publications lack a willingness to innovate – from pay-walls to crowd-sourced content.
Likewise, we often hear about declining readerships, but we hear less often about the successes. We have now publications like the French daily newspapers "Mon Quotidien" and "Le Petit Quotidien" aimed at 6 -14 year olds, building up a new loyalty in a new generation of readers. And nine daily newspapers continue to serve Helsinki’s citizens – who number less than one million. Readers in all our Member States are also rewarding the excellent tablet editions that are increasingly available.
So my message may not be new, but it is positive. Newspapers do have a home in Europe, and can thrive in the digital era: if they invest in good journalism and innovate in their approaches.
The digital era will of course be the great theme of your future. How will your industry adapt to the era of broadband for all?
As a consumer, I see that both universal broadband, and a vibrant, plural, quality news sector are essential to our future. That necessarily rules out complacency on the part of newspapers, and suggests a range of approaches will be needed to meet new and existing demands.
And over the medium-term I also look directly the prospect of a Digital Single Market as the great structural reform the European Union can implement in your benefit. There are increasing opportunities to make your content available across the single market – whether to expatriate or special interest communities, whether directly or through licensing of content, whether online or in print. There will be fewer barriers and more opportunities still if we can ensure that Member States accept that the common good from a Digital Single Market will outweigh any immediate or narrow costs of change.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude by saying that the European Union now faces its most critical days and months.
I expect your publications to analyse our actions as some say "without fear or favour", and I know you share the sense of urgency to achieve change that keeps on a firm path towards long-term growth and stability. It is what your readers want, it is what every industry needs.
As we tread along this path, I hope also that your publications continue to serve the higher function of freedom and the public interest that has given them their great names. The European Union and the newspapers of this continent, both have a great numbers of achievements worth celebrating and defending. Therefore, I sincerely congratulate you again on your 50th anniversary and wish that the next 50 years will be just as successful or even more successful.
I thank you for your attention.