European Federation of Journalists

#Disinformation: EFJ calls on EU for rapid support for journalism

Picture credit: Francisco Seco / AFP.

“Journalists are in the frontline in the fight against disinformation,” said yesterday Věra Jourová, Vice-President for Values and Transparency in the European Commission. “We are calling on Member States to ensure that they can work safely, in the right conditions, and to make the most of the EU recovery package to support media while respecting their independence.”

Yesterday’s Commission communication on fight against COVID-19 disinformation includes a chapter on ensuring freedom of expression with strong messages on the importance of journalists, free and independent media, access to information, transparency and accountability.

“The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the crucial role of free and independent media as an essential service, providing citizens with reliable, fact-checked information, contributing to saving lives. However, the crisis has also amplified the already difficult economic situation of the sector due to a dramatic fall in advertising income, despite increased audiences. The situation is particularly difficult for vulnerable smaller players and local and regional media outlets. The whole EU media ecosystems and its diversity is weakened by result. The Commission’s recovery and repair package would help address immediate liquidity needs through the solvency support and cohesion funding, while strengthening the digital investment and resilience of the sector through InvestEU, Creative Europe, and Horizon Europe Programme,” says the communication.

In a list of actions to be taken, the Commission “calls upon Member States to intensify efforts in these times of crisis to ensure that journalists can work safely, in the right conditions, and recognise news media as an essential service”. The Commission also invites the Parliament and the Council to urgently adopt the comprehensive recovery package that would help repair and strengthen resilience of the media sector to fight COVID-related disinformation. Member States should make the most of this package as well as of the EU’s COVID-19 economic response to support media which are heavily hit by the crisis while respecting their independence. All EU actors should strive to support media as part of the recovery”.

“We regret the lack of urgent short-term financial support measures for the media sector in this crisis,” said EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregård. “We call on the European Commission to ensure that national recovery plans devote a significant proportion of resources to journalism, especially local journalism and innovative initiatives. Independent and pluralistic journalism remains the best antidote against disinformation and this unprecedented infodemic.”

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) together with its national affiliates calls on EU Member States to significantly increase the share of Creative Europe’s budget dedicated to journalism. As stated in the common call on EU Member States to adopt an ambitious Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), the EFJ supports the position of the European Parliament to strengthen the budget allocated to the Creative Europe 2021-2027 budget  and to significantly increase the  portion dedicated to the cross-sectoral strand that originally envisaged only 62 million EUR for support to media pluralism, quality journalism and media literacy. To have a meaningful impact on supporting journalism, especially non-profit, investigative, and local outlets, the cross-sectoral strand of the budget should be increased tenfold. EU Member Sates are supposed to discuss the MFF at an Council meeting on 19 June.

On fighting disinformation, the EFJ shares the NGO EU DinsinfoLab‘s position: “The task of fact-checking and countering mis- and disinformation should rather be left to independent media, researchers, and civil society. But, sadly, this (…) Communication fails to properly address the support needed for independent media, researchers, and civil society in Europe. (…) Faced with funding cuts and multiple threats, the media, research and civil society ecosystem centred around tackling disinformation is at risk. This work is human-intensive: producing disinformation is cheap but tackling it is expensive (resources but also security, both physical and online).  (…) Therefore, it’s essential that the EU sets up an ambitious, decentralised framework to fund civil society, journalists, and researchers across the EU. This would ensure the healthy participation and empowerment of independent organisations to both counter disinformation and hold platforms accountable for upholding democratic principles.”

The EFJ with its partner organisations will advocate for a robust action plan for independent and viable media as part of the European Democracy Action Plan to be presented by the European Commission by the end of the year.