Conference on the Future of Europe : proposition 27

What to do about misinformation and false information? Although for some years now, certain platforms have been committed to verifying information, the credibility of the media has been called into question.

The climate change and the European energy dependence are a real concern to European citizens. Foto: Philippe STIRNWEISS / © European Union 2022 / Source: EP

(Elsa Woeffler) – Fighting misinformation through increased promotion of media independence and pluralism as well as media literacy, is the objective of proposition 27 of the final report edited by a citizens’ panel for the Conference on the Future of Europe. Guaranteeing media independence, and therefore pluralism, inevitably leads to greater press freedom. Thus, fighting misinformation is a major point in the proposals made by the citizens’ panel. However, Europe generally appears at the top of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranking. In its 2022 report, which is published every year, Europe remains one of the most favorable continents for press freedom and media plurality. This being said, a disparity exists within the 27 member states. Indeed, the Scandinavian countries are among the best rated, which is not the case for some Mediterranean and Eastern European countries. Poland, Slovenia, but also Greece and Hungary have tightened up their liberticide measures against journalists. And France ranks only 37th in the Transparency International ranking for freedom of press. Also, the murder of several journalists in the European Union is increasingly affecting the safety and independence of journalists and the press. The more member states restrict the media and journalists, the less press freedom there will be and the more disinformation and propaganda will take its place.

The objective of fighting disinformation also makes sense in the current context. According to Reporters Without Borders, the events currently taking place at the gates of Europe, in Ukraine, are having severe consequences, such as the reduction of press freedom in the region and the banning of certain media in favor of Russian propaganda. Thus, the disinformation perpetrated by the Russian government regarding its war in Ukraine is spreading.

To counter this disinformation phenomenon, the European Union has reacted by banning all Russian media broadcasts, without an appropriate legal framework, risking retaliatory measures against European media. If the fight against disinformation and the protection of the media is to be successful, the European Union must do so within an appropriate legal framework to protect journalists and press freedom, which is so important in a democracy. Since the last few years, an anti-media rhetoric has spread throughout not only Europe, but also the world, and continues to do so. Year after year, the population’s distrust in the media is growing, with 59% believing and considering that journalists deliberately try to mislead the public by spreading false information, according to the Edelman Trust 2021 barometer. Therefore, it is urgent to educate the European population on the importance of the press and the media and the importance of a diverse range of media in order to ensure plurality and consequently, unequivocal press freedom.

In response to the various problems that today’s press is facing to a greater or lesser extent, the citizens of the Future of Europe conference have grasped the urgency of the situation by presenting five different measures:

1. Introducing legislation to tackle threats to media independence through minimum standards applicable across the Union, including a review of the media business model to ensure the integrity and independence of the European media market.

2. Strictly enforcing EU competition rules in the media sector to prevent the creation of large media monopolies and to ensure pluralism and independence of the media from unwanted political, business and/or foreign interference. Quality journalism with recognized high standards of ethics and self-regulation should also be encouraged.

3. Establishing an EU body to combat targeted disinformation and interference, improving perceptions and strengthening fact-checking organisations and independent media. Hotlines and websites, such as Europe Direct, allowing citizens and national media to request and receive verified information on EU strategies and policies, should also be further supported and promoted.

4. Promoting media literacy and awareness of misinformation and the unintentional spread of infox, including through compulsory school education. Member States should also be encouraged to devote adequate human and financial resources to this end.

5. Building on existing initiatives, such as the Code of Practice against misinformation and the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO), to oblige online platforms to publish clear information about the algorithms they use (with users having the choice to consent or not) and the risks of misinformation to which users are exposed, while preserving the right to freedom of speech and the right to privacy.

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