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Media Freedom and Pluralism

Beata Klimkiewicz

Section 1. Media policy rationales and models

Chapter 2. Visions of Media Pluralism and Freedom of Expression in EU Information Society Policies

Miyase Christensen

Texte intégral

2.1. EU information society visions

1Since the “information revolution” started to take hold in the 1980s and particularly in the early 1990s, a great deal of academic research has been published on information and communication technologies, convergence, and resulting impacts (e.g. Castells 1996, 1997, 1998; Webster, 1995; Schiller, 1999; Golding, 2000; Kellner, 1999). While popular and neo-liberal discourses on the digital age have generally celebrated the potential inherent in these technologies and supported the market-friendly economic and regulatory regimes, a more skeptical approach was sustained in the political-economy tradition of communications research. The implications of market consolidation and the narrow policy aims put forth in relation to technology convergence were scrutinized from a variety of critical perspectives (e.g. Garnham, 1994, 1996; 2000; Calabrese and Burgelman, 1999).

2Although it started later than its transatlantic and transpacific neighbors, the EU has always sought to create a competitive knowledge economy and an inclusive information society based on a number of conflicting tenets: rigorously competitive market-oriented media regimes, external and internal media plurality, and equal access norms. Many in the field of media and communication studies have criticized the singularity of such policy-established notions of new economy and information society. Castells and Himanen (2002), for example, note in their analysis of the Finnish synthesis of the information society and welfare state (the so-called “Finnish model”) that the information society (is) can exist in different political, economic, and social models, and take different forms. They suggest that just as the industrial revolution took diverse shapes in the West, in the soviet bloc, and in East Asia, is not a uniform global phenomenon, but rather a long-term social and economic process contingent upon circumstances in different places and times. A rich body of literature has also been produced (e.g. Preston, 2003; o Siochrú, 2004; Hamelink, 2003) examining whether alternative visions of is can or should exist, with communication rights and a communication society epitomizing one such vision. at the global level, during the un World summits on information society (WSIS) in Geneva (2003) and Tunis (2005), the very concepts of is, communication rights, cultural diversity, access to information and freedom of expression, media concentration, and a range of related notions were also opened up for questioning, as was the level of control over is exercised by a limited number of powerful architects. The EU, after the second phase of the summit in Tunis, pleaded for freedom of speech as a mechanism to bridge the digital divide (EC-DG information society, November 16, 2005)—although the EU participation in and response to the summit and the questions that ensued thereafter did not go much beyond reaffirming the existing EU is policy agenda.

  • 1 It should also be noted that the exaggerated emphasis placed on the primacy and immediacy of conve (...)

3What has underlaid the EU IS policy rhetoric so far is an uneven power geometry constituted by various actors. As Harcourt (2002, p. 4) observes in her analysis of European media regulation: “much of the driving force behind changes in national policies is EU industrial policy.” as she further discerns, the media industry, in the 1980s and 1990s, was perceived as the remedy for unemployment and a decline in economic growth. The Commission’s later attitudes toward and expectations from the growing centrality of is technologies in everyday life ran parallel to this vision. in addition to the growing importance of media industries, the emergence of new media technologies, particularly of the internet, as an immensely powerful force in the 1990s (coupled with ubiquitous and ambitious competition from the united states and the Asia-Pacific region) resulted in a realignment of focus in the EU media and communication policy domain from traditional audiovisual systems and related issues to information and communication technologies (ICT) and convergence. in response to a global-scale move toward deregulated market structures and commercialized activity in communications, the (infamous) Bangemann report (1994) argued in favor of streamlining the EU information sector based on private sector funding and consolidating the related EU policy framework to establish a competitive single market environment (Christensen, 2006).1 Regulatory complexities brought about by convergence and efforts to tackle this challenge marked the EU is policies throughout the 1990s. Worth mentioning is Towards an Information Society Approach: Green Paper on the Convergence of the Telecommunications, Media and Information Technology Sectors and the Implications for Regulation (European Commission, 1997), in which various responses to rapid convergence were contemplated. The main objective of this allegedly interrogative document was to address what convergence entailed and to stimulate debate on likely regulatory approaches to be adopted. However, an inclination toward minimizing regulation and pulling audiovisual services closer to the domain of is was evident in the rhetoric of the document. In the following years, various discussions ensued within the Commission—particularly directorate General information society and directorate General education and Culture—and among stakeholders across the region. In 1999, as a culmination of this intense discussion and negotiation process, the Commission issued a Communication (Principles and Guidelines for the Community’s Audiovisual Policy in the Digital Age), which assumed a watchful but calm attitude toward the contingencies of technological change (European Commission, 1999). overall, while the earlier EU policy scope of the 1990s focused on market restructuring (liberalization and reregulation) and macro-dynamics, concern over socio-cultural issues found their way into policy considerations, particularly due to a rapid migration of content onto new media and tendencies toward concentration of media ownership in the commercial environment.

  • 2 It is noted here that “developments here depend mainly on private sector funding. Such activity ma (...)

4at the renowned 2000 Lisbon summit, which centered on information society issues, the heads of EU Member states resolved to become “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world” (European Commission, 2000a). To benefit fully from the potential economic and social riches offered by is technologies, the E-Europe action Plan was initiated in June 2000. The main intention of the action plan, and the preceding E-Europe initiative launched in 1999, was to accelerate “the uptake of digital technologies across Europe” and to “ensure that all Europeans have the necessary skills to use them” (European Commission, 2000c). Three interlinked methods were identified to reach this goal: accelerating the setup of an appropriate legal environment on a European level; supporting new infrastructure and services across the region;2 and applying the open method of coordination and benchmarking (2000c, pp. 2–3). The potential of ICTS, and particularly of the internet, to increase employment and to restructure the economy were accentuated as part of the initiative, pointing to the need to create a competitive European market and skilled labor.

5In 2002, E-Europe 2002 was finalized, and the E-Europe 2005 action plan succeeded it, mainly focusing on internet connectivity in Europe. The aim of E-Europe 2005, approved by the Seville European Council in June 2002, was to achieve further economic productivity and to increase the quality and accessibility of services for all European citizens based on a secure broadband infrastructure. Broadband will ensure high-speed and continuous access to the internet. In line with the previous set of policies and strategies engineered by the Commission and the action plans pursued (e.g. E-Europe 2002, and E-Europe+ launched in 2001 by the then-candidate countries), eeurope-2005 centered on combining the social and the cultural aims with the economic aims. Increasing European competitiveness on the whole was the main motive (Christensen, 2006). and, in the epochal fifth enlargement process to integrate ten plus two countries, the EU attributed a central role to the information society, as noted at the European Ministerial Conference in June 2002: “at this crucial moment in Europe’s political development, we underline the importance of the information society in increasing social and cultural cohesion and in strengthening economic integration” (p. 3). While the EU Commission realigned the heavily techno-deterministic policy approach of the 1990s (particularly in market deregulation) in favor of a more human-centered is rhetoric in the late 1990s and the 2000s—social inclusion was indeed more integral to the discourse of the later policies— “market” still retained its dominance over “social.”

  • 3 Community law currently treats “broadcasting services” and “information society services” as separ (...)

6In the 2000s, following from the earlier policy scope, the Commission’s response to the ever-increasing convergence of traditional and new media realms has been a gradual move toward engineering a convergent policy regime in order to merge the two formerly distinct fields in a uniform policy scope for the purposes of maximizing economic gains.3 The urgency of dealing with economic stagnation and the stringency of the growth and employment-related problems experienced in particular by larger European economies were reflected in the relaunched Lisbon strategy agenda of the Barosso administration in 2005. Economic growth and employment were declared to be the EU’s top priorities. Cultural policies and new media and content sectors gained paramount significance at this time—although the primacy of the cultural sector had been acknowledged since the 1980s—as they were explicitly assigned a greater role in ensuring the future of European competitiveness and social well-being.

7As the E-Europe 2005 action Plan came to an end in 2005, the head of the directorate General information society and Media, Viviane Reding, put forward a new initiative in June 2005. i2010: A European Information Society for Growth and Employment was designed to realize the goals of the new Lisbon strategy and to “build towards an integrated approach to information society and audiovisual media policies in the EU” (European Commission, 2005a, p. 3), the primary aim being to ensure the compatibility of a multitude of content services and technologies. i2010 has three specific policy objectives: to create a common information space based on the strengthening of an open and competitive single market for communication and media services; to ensure European technological leadership by encouraging private and public research and innovation in ICT; and to promote a more inclusive information society in Europe, by better exploiting ICTS to improve quality of life (European Commission, 2005a).

8Within the scope of i2010, “a single European information space,” a number of regulatory mechanisms and various other instruments are utilized together to regulate: 1) the networks, and, 2) content available via these networks (through the TVWF directive currently in effect and the recently adopted AVMS directive; Copyright and digital rights Management; instruments regarding Web accessibility). actions that are devised for the operationalization of the i2010 goals are grouped under investment and innovation in research; inclusion, better public services and quality of life; and various other flagship initiatives (such as in the area of preserving European cultural heritage). At present, electronic commerce, in line with internal market logic, is regulated through the e-Commerce directive and maintains the country-of-origin principle (the receiving Member state cannot restrict incoming services).

2.2. Media pluralism and freedom of speech in the European is: a contentious terrain

9Because of increasing economic globalization, questions regarding the changes to apply to, and continuities to prevail within, key social and political institutions such as the nation-state, public sphere, and citizenship have been paramount since the 1980s. As Sassen (2003, p. 42) observes, for example, the sociopolitical and economic forces at play today are destabilizing the institutions of nation-state and citizenship: “Through their destabilizing effects, these dynamics are producing operational and rhetorical openings for the emergence of new types of political subjects and new spatialities for politics.” in historically market-based national economies such as the united states, media and communication policies have been informed primarily by the business volume available domestically, projected demands/perceived needs of the consumer society and input from civil society actors. In European welfare-state regimes, the state has traditionally been seen as the guarantor of rights and entitlements for all citizenry, and the legitimacy of national policies has historically been measured against notions such as citizen’s rights, inclusive public spheres, freedom of speech, social benefits, sustainable consumption, and the like. Within the past few de-cades, due both to increased globalization, as Sassen surmises, and to the persistence of techno-capitalistic industry policies (including media and communications), this perceived responsibility has seemingly been shifting toward the economic enterprise and competitive dynamics, thereby (potentially) destabilizing sociopolitical institutions and undermining the normative grounds for public interest concerns and policy actions.

10Europe is a particularly complicated case in this regard. The moral and political foundations upon which the EU has historically been built are undoubtedly liberal democracy, freedom of speech, and a universal understanding of human rights and human dignity. Yet, as Ward (2002) argues, the process of increased integration raises the problem of legitimacy in governance, “as a directly accountable set of institutions responsible to the public is currently absent” (2002, p. 1). Ward points out that a democracy gap exists between the EU institutions and suggests that:

“The gap, frequently referred to as the democratic deficit, has become one of the most salient criticisms of the European union by both the proponents of the European union project, who push for more democratic accountability at the supranational level, and opponents of integration who utilize the argument to bemoan the loss of national sovereignty to unwieldy and unaccountable powers” (2002, p. 1).

  • 4 See Sarikakis, 2005; Harcourt, 2005.
  • 5 There are a number of key legislations at various institutional levels in play, such as the Europe (...)

11Emblematic of this problem are the differences of approach to public interest issues between the EP and the Commission, and the inability of the Commission to draw support from stakeholders to establish legitimate grounds to safeguard media pluralism and freedom of expression through supranational regulation. The 1990s were marked by various efforts and initiatives within the EU to devise a common, effective, all-encompassing definition of media pluralism. There were no concrete outcomes, despite the efforts of the European Parliament.4 The 1992 Green Paper Pluralism and Media Concentration in the Internal Market: An Assessment of the Need for Community Action (European Commission, 1992) was debated for a long time and was lobbied against by a number of powerful industry actors. While some media owners supported a supranational framework to safeguard external pluralism earlier in the 1990s, due to the prospects offered through a liberal environment, they later shifted toward opposing EU intervention in this area. The Issues Paper for the Liverpool Audiovisual Conference: Media Pluralism—What Should Be the European Union’s Role? (European Commission, 2005b), which came out of the Liverpool audiovisual Conference, did not lead to consensus among the stakeholders involved regarding the prospect of intervention at the supranational level. The absence of a binding supranational social act such as an EU Constitution and the principle of subsidiarity also makes it difficult to impose common normative principles. EU governance is very complex, and the resulting process causes ambiguity and hierarchy in the mutual roles of the Commission (and the directorates General), Council of Europe and the European Parliament vis-à-vis the national governments and market actors.5

12As sarikakis and Chakravartty (2006, p. 114) note, “the legitimacy of the is visions rests on the articulation of ideas and the construction or apprehension of the ‘facts’ by the various institutional actors engaged in the practice of shaping policy.” during the 1990s, we witnessed government attempts to organically and structurally link is discourse and economic globalization with that of welfare regimes in explicit ways, most notably in the united Kingdom. As Hudson (2003) observes, the Labour Party crafted a narrative in which ICT-driven transformation and the role of technology in economic prosperity were central components: a signpost in the rhetoric of the “Third Way.” By suggesting that is requires discontinuities with the past, the Blair government rationalized the desertion of traditional egalitarian policies, creating policy tensions regarding where the welfare state is headed in the united Kingdom. Through certain discursive strategies, decisionmakers at the EU Commission have also argued for conceding to the supremacy of market forces. The EU-engineered meta-narrative of is legitimizes the vision of a competition-driven European knowledge society where the market, not elected governments, takes care of social and cultural obligations for the most part, with the state acting as a mediator. As a result, the historically “public” nature of media pluralism and freedom of speech are challenged, and they emerge as a contentious terrain between the various interests and claims represented by supranational, national, market, and public power nodes (see Figure 2.1).

  • 6 Directive 2002/21/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 March 2002 on a common reg (...)

13In the framework of existing is directives, media pluralism is inferred—e.g. provisions regarding frequency allocations, universal access, media literacy—rather than explicit. The regulatory scope of new media and electronic communications is composed of five directives that provide the framework for electronic communications in the EU.6 Unsurprisingly, these directives are limited in scope in terms of addressing issues related to pluralism and freedom of expression. National regulatory bodies are assigned the responsibility of ensuring that cultural and linguistic diversity is promoted and consumers are protected. Primarily, the framework is an instrument designed to tackle economic regulation. It seeks to protect the consumer through legal obligations pertaining to privacy and data protection, universal service, and user rights. It does not deal with content services except in specific cases of bundled content and communications services. In June 2006 the EU regulatory Framework for electronic communications networks and services was reviewed, and the results were documented in a Communication (European Commission, 2006b). The 2006 Communication notes that overall, the regulatory framework has been successful in achieving the policy goals and addressing new technologies. In addition to changes in spectrum management and market review, the Communication also points to a number of areas that need further improvement: consolidating the single market; strengthening consumers and user interests; improving security; and removing outdated provisions. The ultimate goal here remains economic maximization, and currently, the directorate General information society and Media is updating the telecommunications package to strengthen the single market and support economic growth.

Figure 2.1. Media Pluralism/Freedom of expression Power dynamic

Figure 2.1. Media Pluralism/Freedom of expression Power dynamic
  • 7 For further information on the list of actions between 2005 and 2007, see Commission staff Working (...)
  • 8 Article 23 reads: “Fostering pluralism, cultural identity and linguistic diversity in the digital (...)
  • 9 The indicators are policies and legal instruments that support pluralism in Member states; the ran (...)

14i2010 actions are evaluated and the upcoming actions/issues identified in the form of annual reports. The most recent annual report (European Commission, 2007c) notes a couple of recent actions pertaining to pluralism and freedom of expression, such as the Ministerial Conference “ICT for an inclusive society” held in Riga in June 2006.7 The declaration that was adopted set a number of priorities to address disadvantages arising from geographic isolation and old age. It also listed priorities for the enhancement of eAccessibility, digital literacy, cultural diversity, and inclusive eGovernment services, and the protection of pluralism and freedom of expression was noted as an important element for an inclusive European is.8 as noted in the 2007 annual report, The Commission staff Working Paper Media Pluralism in the Member States of the European Union (European Commission— DG information society and Media, 2007) represents another action taken within the scope of the i2010 action plan. In response to growing concern from the European Parliament, NGOS, and other interest groups over concentration of media and its probable impact on pluralism and freedom of speech, the Commission issued a working paper in January 2007 concerning media pluralism in the EU Member states. The initiative was called the “reding-Wallström” approach, and Wallström (European Commission—DG information society and Media, 2007) declared, “Communication—understood as a lively and civilized debate among citizens—is the lifeblood of democracy.” Maintaining the Commission position for a hands-off approach, the initiative refrains from putting forward institutional will toward adopting a common legislative framework at the supranational level. Instead, it introduces a three-step approach to monitor media pluralism and freedom of speech across Member states through an independent study and to issue a Commission Communication thereafter on the indicators to be opened to public consultation.9

  • 10 The recommendations point to the public service aspect of the internet. Guideline IV reads: “acces (...)

15In their September 2007 meeting, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe also adopted a number of recommendations for EU Member states concerning digital content (Council of Europe, Committee of Ministers, 2007b). The main goal of the recommendation is to promote freedom of expression and information in the new media environment. it is meant to provide guidance—for developing data collection and storage standards; providing equal access; and labeling of potentially harmful content.10 The document calls for the private sector and Member states to strike a fair balance between “the right to express freely and to impart information in this new environment and respect for human dignity and the rights of others.” it also suggests that “the right to freedom of expression may be subject to formalities, conditions and restrictions in order to ensure proportionality.” The recommendation encountered a variety of reactions. European digital rights (EDRI), for one, heavily criticized the recommendation and campaigned against it on the grounds that it promoted self-regulation and soft legal instruments, leaving too broad a space for business-friendly interpretations (EDRI, 2007).

16The new AVMS directive has been transposed into national regulation between the end of 2007 and 2009, and the national questions and issues to arise from thereafter remain to be seen. As it is, like its precursor TVWF directive, the new AVMS directive falls short of directly addressing media pluralism and freedom of expression, and it mostly deals with new advertising rules to apply. During the lengthy process of crafting the new directive, the European Parliament and a number of civil society organizations (such as consumer groups or independent media organizations) argued in favor of a stricter regulatory framework for safeguarding pluralism and freedom of expression. The final document makes a cursory reference to protecting media pluralism and freedom of expression, and it gives the mandate to national governments to guarantee the independence of national regulatory authorities.

2.3. Regulatory challenges in the new media environment: a few issues

17As Klimkiewicz (2005) notes, EU audiovisual policy generally oscillates between supporting a common European media space by supporting large European media actors, and supporting pluralism and diversity. The rise of the information society poses further and fundamental challenges for policymakers at the EU level in relation to concepts such as pluralism and freedom of speech. The available regulatory scope of is policies pertaining to media pluralism and freedom of speech (e.g. ownership regulations or universal service provisions) falls in large part under external pluralism. Content regulation—for the purposes of, for example, increasing diversity (and thus pluralism)— in the cases of early national radio and TV was simply a question of monitoring a predetermined amount of broadcast content. The volume of material was limited due to bandwidth and licensing restrictions, and thus many broadcasters operated under public service or quasi-public service provisions. Such provisions dissolve when applied to the internet. The sheer volume of material online, coupled with the decentralized and de-territorialized production, distribution and exhibition nature of the Web, renders moot the traditional approaches to internal pluralism. Although some new media services (such as TV-like services) are subject to content regulation within the scope of the new AVMS directive, the definitions of pluralism and freedom of expression in the EU is rhetoric remain very basic and far from adequate in addressing the complexities inherent therein.

18As Cooke (2006, pp. 366–367) discerns, the EU was much slower in addressing issues related to internet content in the IS regulatory framework. This was due to a lack of a supranational constitution and of other legally binding mechanisms, and due also to a wide variety of— often conflicted—positions and interests as voiced by various social actors. Content control also poses jurisdictional and cultural quandaries. Particularly problematic is the absence of supranational instruments to deter tendencies to interpret freedom of expression as a negative right at the national level. as Cooke observes, despite the problems inherent in regulating as large and unwieldy a medium as the internet, the desire on the part of national governments, corporations, media companies, and individuals to monitor and regulate “harmful” or “offensive” media has led to “the adoption of a number of policy measures at institutional, national and international levels, with the expressed intention of monitoring and controlling access to, and dissemination of, such content” (2006, p. 362). As Karppinen (2006) notes, issues such as media pluralism, diversity, and free speech can be hijacked at the national level for ulterior political motives, and “the values and meanings associated with pluralism and diversity are open-ended and subject to continuous process of social negation” (2006, p. 64).

19As an example of the fluidity of concepts such as diversity and freedom of speech, in early 2006 a newspaper (SD-Kuriren) linked to a Swedish right-wing nationalist party posted copies (to its online edition) of the controversial Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. The host carrying the site, Levonline, after being contacted by representatives of the Swedish state department and the Swedish secret police, decided to remove the site. Both the state department and the secret police denied issuing a direct order to Levonline to remove the pages in question, but did point out to the host that the presence of the cartoons could prove a security risk, particularly to Swedish interests abroad. Sweden’s foreign minister at the time, Laila Freivalds, suggested that the cartoons constituted a form of hate speech, but that particular reason was not given for the deletion of the pages, and a number of legal scholars in Sweden had concluded that the cartoons had not, in fact, constituted hate speech. The controversy around the case led Laila Freivalds to resign on the grounds that, as a minister, she obstructed freedom of the press (SVD, 2006b). a hate speech charge was filed against the newspaper, but it was deemed unfounded by the Swedish attorney general (SVD, 2006a). in a similar case involving an EU candidate state, the Turkish courts shut down access to the video-sharing site YouTube for 48 hours following the posting of videos (from users in Greece) with content suggesting that the founder of the Turkish republic, and Turkish citizens in general, were homosexuals (The Guardian, 2007). The clips were deemed to have violated article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, under which it is illegal to insult either the memory of Atatürk, or Turkishness. as these cases illustrate (within EU-member and candidate contexts), legal and non-legal perceptions of “harmful” or “offensive” content can vary.

20Since the definition of what is considered harmful content depends on the cultural traditions and moral beliefs of users, the variety of what is considered harmful content is “limitless.” The EU was aware that such wide variations make it impossible to formulate a common regulatory framework without infringing the fundamental right to freedom of expression of some groups. The European Parliament discussions, as well as the Commission documents, promoted self-regulation as being able to adapt to the different needs and act across legal and cultural traditions. The EU, however, refrained from pointing out how self-regulation could actually bridge the different cultural and legal traditions (Bonnici & de Vey Mestdagh, 2005, p. 136).

21The problems illustrated by the Swedish and Turkish cases point to the need for a reconsideration of binding mechanisms to foster freedom of expression as a positive right. Halpin and Simpson (2002) make a similar observation when they write that the EU’s approach to inter-net governance is “mixed” and that “its provisions are loosely specified giving considerable discretion to Member states” (2002, p. 288).

22Although the European Parliament has tried to sustain a normative scope for public interest goals, the Commission, especially the current directorate General information society and Media under Commissioner Viviane reding, is inclined to equate media pluralism with a liberal market consisting of multiple economic actors and freedom of expression with mere access to the medium (through provision of physical access and media literacy). The overall approach to internet regulation is described by Cooke (2007) as “multi-faceted” and one in which legal instruments, the “shaping of technical architecture” (e.g. the promotion of filtering software), the “manipulation of cultural norms” (e.g. through educational initiatives), and, finally, self-regulatory mechanisms are all used (2007, pp. 371–372). In terms of internet content in particular, self-regulation by industry actors stands out as the dominant regulatory instrument favored by the Commission. Yet the use of market-driven regulation and/or self-regulation is, in and of itself, a contentious issue. At the most fundamental level, the critique of such regulation is that it presumes a form of “market neutrality” through which competition simply “produces” pluralism, choice, diversity, freedom of speech, and so on. Such an assumption neglects the fact that, as Karppinen (2006) writes, “the market itself is a politically designed institution, not a homogenous, unstructured and unregulated natural entity,” and that “the actual shape of the markets must always be crafted by political and legal regulation and it hardly emerges spontaneously as a neutral mediator of civil society” (2006, p. 63).

23Factors that determine the shape and content of new media landscapes are mutually constituted by structural factors on the one hand (production and distribution practices; architecture of technologies; policy and regulation) and user practices on the other, and accessrelated issues become more complex. Van Cuilenburg and McQuail (2003), among others, address how freedom of communication and/or expression is linked, crucially, to questions of access:

“The concept of ‘access to communications’ applies to structure, content and audiences and it can in general be defined as the possibility for individuals, groups of individuals, organizations and institutions to share society’s communications resources; that is, to participate in the market of distribution services (communications infrastructure and transport), and in the market of content and communication services, both as senders and receivers. Freedom of communication and free and equal access are related to the question of who is in control of the actual communication process.” (2003, p. 204)

24As they note, access needs to be defined, “in terms of both being able to receive and send” information (2003, p. 204). Linked to this is a need to understand freedom of speech and freedom of expression as key sites for what Balkin (2004) describes as “struggles over the legal and constitutional protection of capital in the information age” (2004, p. 3). As he suggests, the “digital revolution” that defines the information society forces us to reconsider some fundamental assumptions about the organization and practice of free speech. Balkin identifies four shifts effected by the digital revolution. First, it lowers the cost of copying and distributing information. Second, cross-cultural and international communication becomes much easier. Third, digital technology lowers the costs of “innovating with existing information” and building upon it. And fourth, “lowering the costs of transmission, distribution, appropriation, and alteration of information democratizes speech” (2004, pp. 6–9). This reconfiguration of free speech in the digital age, Balkin continues, has led to two trends: digital content has become more “democratized,” and it has become a source of wealth and power.

25These trends quickly come into conflict. That conflict, and its consequences for freedom of speech, is the central problem of the digital age. The irony is this: The very same features of the digital age that empower ordinary individuals also lead businesses continually to expand markets for intellectual property and digital content. Yet as businesses do so, they must deal with features of the digital age that empower consumers and give them new abilities to copy, distribute, and manipulate digital content (2004, p. 13). Balkin further argues that at the very moment when ordinary people are empowered to use digital technologies to speak, to create, to participate in the creation of culture, and to distribute their ideas and innovations around the world, businesses are working as hard as possible to limit and shut down forms of participation and innovation that are inconsistent with their economic interests (2004, p. 14).

26The struggle that Balkin illustrates—between the rights of individuals to communicate freely in a new digital environment and the interests of commercial organizations—is emblematic of the contested stakes raised around media pluralism and freedom of expression in the eu information society context.

2.4. Conclusion

27In the current phase of IS policy, which van Cuilenburg and Mc-Quail (2003) call the “third phase” in media policy paradigm shifts, the EU leaned toward regulation favoring the interests of businesses and markets over the public and citizens. The Commission’s approach to questions of media pluralism and freedom of expression is marked more by caution than vigor. And the convergence of cultural policies and media/communications policies with competition policies motivates national governments to prioritize the latter rather than safeguarding a public interest approach to the former. Is technologies at large, and particularly the internet, constitute a significant terrain into which communications of all sorts—public/private, commercial/informative—increasingly migrate. as such, safeguarding media pluralism and freedom of speech in this terrain translates into safeguarding the well-being of the public sphere. Media pluralism is a strength, to the extent that it contributes to communicative democratic practices and where the “publicness” of the public is granted. When it is taken to mean, in a neoliberal, market-friendly framework, the plurality of available commercial actors in the market—with the hope that the multiplicity of actors will amount to diversity and plurality of voices—it becomes a weakness. In the EU, the coexistence of a competitive single market with public interest concerns and priorities calls not only for an effective convergence of technological infrastructures and regulatory policies, but also for a convergence of minds across the region around common normative grounds.


1 It should also be noted that the exaggerated emphasis placed on the primacy and immediacy of convergence—and hence the necessity to include broadcasting in the domain of competition-based ICT policies—during Bangemann’s tenure at the directorate General information society was later balanced by a more careful, evolutionary approach by the Commission.

2 It is noted here that “developments here depend mainly on private sector funding. Such activity may be supported with European funding, but much depends on action by Member states” (European Commission, 2000c, p. 2).

3 Community law currently treats “broadcasting services” and “information society services” as separate. The former refers to a program transmitted to the receiver (push) in the form of free-to-air or pay TV. The latter involves content accessed (pull) by the user.

4 See Sarikakis, 2005; Harcourt, 2005.

5 There are a number of key legislations at various institutional levels in play, such as the European Convention on Human rights, article 10 and article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental rights that safeguard freedom of expression.

6 Directive 2002/21/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 March 2002 on a common regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services (Framework directive) o. J. 24.04. 2002, l 108; directive 2002/20/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 March 2002 on the authorisation of electronic communications networks and services (authorisation directive) o. J. 24.04.2002, L 108; directive 2002/19/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 March 2002 on access to, and interconnection of electronic communications networks and associated facilities (access directive) o. J. 24.04. 2002, L 108; directive 2002/22/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 March 2002 on universal service and users’ rights relating to electronic communications networks and services (universal service directive) O.J. 24.04.2002, L 108; directive 2002/58/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 July 2002 concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector (directive on privacy and electronic communications) O.J. 31.07.2002, L 201. Added to these was the regulatory framework for radio spectrum policy.

7 For further information on the list of actions between 2005 and 2007, see Commission staff Working document accompanying document to the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European economic and social Committee and the Commit-tee of the regions i2010—Annual Information Society Report 2007, SEC 2007, p. 395.

8 Article 23 reads: “Fostering pluralism, cultural identity and linguistic diversity in the digital space. Promoting digitisation, the creation of accessible digital content, and wide and cross-national access to digital information and cultural heritage in support of European integration. Fostering multilingual and local content throughout Europe, as well as European values of freedom, tolerance, equality, solidarity and democracy. ICT innovation and good practice exchanges at all levels are important means to achieve this” (Ministerial declaration, June 11, Riga, Latvia).

9 The indicators are policies and legal instruments that support pluralism in Member states; the range of media available to citizens in different Member states; and the supply-side indicators on the economics of the media.

10 The recommendations point to the public service aspect of the internet. Guideline IV reads: “access to the new information and communications environment facilitates the exercise of their rights and freedoms, in particular their participation in public life and democratic processes.” Member states are encouraged to safeguard these rights and freedoms by providing public access to the internet; ensuring provision and transparency of online services of public institutions; and, by providing online public services in a variety of languages.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 2.1. Media Pluralism/Freedom of expression Power dynamic
Fichier image/jpeg, 76k


Miyase Christensen is assistant Professor in the department of Media and Communication studies at Karlstad University, Sweden. She obtained her Ph.D. from the department of radio-TV-Film, the University of Texas at Austin. Her dissertation work on the EU’s is Policies vis-à-vis Turkey’s harmonization of its is strategies and telecoms sector was awarded with Jesse H. Jones endowed Centennial Fellowship by the UT at Austin. Her research areas include globalization; media and information society policies (with an emphasis on the EU); and media and politics. She is the co-editor of the forthcoming anthology Shifting Landscapes: Media and Film in European Context, (Christensen, M. & Erdogan, E. eds), and the author of a number of articles and book chapters on information society policies and the digital divide. E-mail:

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