Monday, March 14, 2005

Kiev meeting: NGO speech on cultural diversity and media pluralism

The following is the speech (on theme 2 ; cultural diversity and media pluralism) delivered by Brankica Petkovic, Peace Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia on behalf of the NGO forum to the Kiev Ministerial Conference

Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,

We would all agree that freedom of expression and information are vital both from a democratic and cultural perspective and therefore have to be safeguarded. But it is important to emphasize that the rights to access information and to freedom of expression are fundamental human rights and as such belong not only to the media and journalists, but also to every individual. Policy measures on national and European level to guarantee media pluralism and restrict media concentration are therefore important to ensure the possibility to citizens to access a variety of information, different opinions and ideas and variety of cultural expressions.

Considering the acceleration of the concentration of media ownership into fewer and larger media companies, where fewer owners means lesser diversity of the content and fewer voices heard, there is urgent need to find responses through public policy instruments and civic engagements on local, national, European and global level. Media concentration has an impact not only on the media content but also on the manner of reporting, fostering market-driven journalism where the interest of owners and advertisers takes priority over the interest of citizens and the public. We as citizens, journalists and public officials should not allow the independence of the media and journalists, and freedom of expression and information to rest in the hands of media owners.

When we are talking about the urgent need to find responses we have in mind standpoints and actions incorporated in the Resolution and Action Plan No. 2 on Cultural Diversity and Media Pluralism in Times of Globalisation, but especially want to emphasize the need for the adoption and effective implementation of specific regulation guaranteeing media pluralism and preventing excessive concentrations of ownership. Independent regulatory agencies should be entrusted with the necessary competence to monitor and act against concentrations that threaten media pluralism, and these agencies such as broadcasting regulators should cooperate with other competent authorities in the country such as competition authorities, and with similar authorities in Europe to co-ordinate actions and prevent harmful media concentration.

For such actions of public bodies and also for citizens as readers, viewers and listeners transparency in the media sector is crucial. Therefore policy measures should be introduced to provide open access by the public to accurate information in order to know who owns and controls the media. Also, transparency of decisions taken by public authorities with regard to the media sector has to be ensured.

At the same time positive measures should be taken to foster media pluralism – such as media funds to support production of diverse and quality media content, the operations of minority and community media and to encourage entrants to the media market. Public service broadcasting should be preserved and provided with the appropriate legal framework, adequate funding and a political environment to enable them to independently fulfill their remit.

We see the role of the Council of Europe in promoting real independent public service broadcasting especially in countries where transformation from state to public service has been delayed, sometimes also because of the lack of the political will in the respective governments.

The role of public service broadcasting is especially important in providing diverse content for all segments of society. At the same time there is an important task in front of public service broadcasting and other general or mainstream media, namely to contribute to integration and social cohesion taking into account the increasing multicultural character of European societies.

When we are mentioning the need for media contribution to social cohesion and integration we have in mind the negative effects of the fragmentation of audiences, insufficient access to the media for minorities and misrepresentations of minorities in the media. And we have in mind not only national minorities and immigrants, but also vulnerable social groups such as women, sexual minorities, elderly people, people with disability etc.

Cultural diversity being an integral part of European societies has to be reflected not only in media content and programming but also in the employment policy in the media sector. At the same time, training of journalists should be supported to make them able to cope with changing national and international multicultural environments. Such and similar activities that are most often developed by non-governmental organizations to empower minorities in the media in Europe and facilitate dialogue between journalists and minority groups should be also supported.

Support should be provided to NGO initiatives developed to empower minorities in the media on national level, but also to initiatives to set up a European mechanism to coordinate activities throughout Europe, facilitate exchange of good practices and organize public awareness campaigns such as the European Week of Minorities in the Media.

In the framework of the promotion of a pluralistic media landscape, recognition and support should be given to non-profit community media since they give voice to local communities, minorities and other groups which are under-represented in mainstream media.

Public authorities should support independent research and regular monitoring of media concentration on the national and transnational level and its impact on the media landscape, content diversity and audiences. Non-governmental organizations play an important role in data collection and monitoring, formulating policy proposals and raising public awareness. Such a role by the NGOs has been shown to be effective by some recent monitoring reports provided by the Peace Institute Ljubljana and the South East European Network for Professionalisation of the Media (with its report on media ownership in 18 European countries), by the network On Line/More Colors in the Media (with its report on media representations of minorities in 15 European countries) and by the Open Society Institute EUMAP program (with its report on broadcasting regulation in 21 European countries).

Journalists should be supported in their efforts to protect editorial independence, to develop effective self-regulatory and accountability mechanisms and to achieve proper working conditions and social rights.

New forms of inter-activeness between media and citizens have to be developed. Complaint commissions, press councils, readers’ editors, letters to editor, feedback to specific programs are some of the already existing forms in some European countries. But responsiveness of the media to citizens has to be further strengthened and encouraged.

Thank you.