EC: Media pluralism outside EU domain

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BRUSSELS -- The European Union cannot intervene in cases where media pluralism is under threat, the European Commission said Tuesday.

The EC -- the EU's executive authority -- said that, although its authority encompasses antitrust issues like media monopolies, it has no legal remit to interfere when it came to media pluralism, a concept that embraces such issues as diversity of ownership, media independence and variety in information sources.

In a 92-page report, the commission said that there was no strict correlation between media concentration and pluralism. "The mere fact that concentration takes place does not automatically indicate that there is a loss in or a lack of media pluralism," it said.

There had been calls for the EC to intervene in cases such as Italy where media magnate Silvio Berlusconi was able to control the country's main private and private television broadcasters when he was prime minister last year. But the commission said antitrust rules could not deal with such issues.

"Although pluralism of ownership is important, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for ensuring media pluralism," the report said. "Media ownership rules need to be complemented by other provisions."

The report was welcomed by the European Publishers Council.

"Media pluralism arguments can be misused by those who wish to restrict our business activities, governments included, and we are delighted that the commission has accepted that media-specific legislation to regulate media concentration would discriminate disproportionately against traditional media companies such as publishers," EPC executive director Angela Mills Wade said. "Pluralism must be judged and dealt with at the national level against carefully measured public interest objectives and by applying the full rigors of competition policy at both national and European level."

The EC report on media pluralism examines the relationship between politics, economic interests and media, and looks at the risks of media concentration as well as the role of independent regulatory authorities.

Drafted jointly by the services of EU Media and Audiovisual Commissioner Viviane Reding and EU Communications Policy Commissioner Margot Wallstrom, the report is expected to start a debate on the issue over the next 12 months.

The initiative will tie in with the EC's Audiovisual Media Services directive, which calls on governments to guarantee that their national regulatory authorities are independent from their national governments and audiovisual media service providers.


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