Berlin, 15. Juli 2016

Öffentliche Konsultation der EU-Kommission

VG Media beteiligt sich an EU-Konsultation zum Thema Medienvielfalt und Demokratie

Die VG Media hat sich an einer Öffentlichen Konsultation der Europäischen Kommission zum Thema Medienvielfalt und Demokratie beteiligt. Die Konsultation dient der Vorbereitung des Annual Colloquium of Fundamental Rights, das von der EU-Kommission organisiert und am 17. und 18. November 2016 in Brüssel stattfinden wird.

Im Rahmen der Beantwortung hat sich die VG Media insbesondere auf drei Fragen konzentriert. Diese Fragen befassen sich mit der Auswirkung der Medienkonvergenz auf die Finanzierung von Qualitätsjournalismus, mit der Bedeutung von Meinungs- und Medienvielfalt für die Demokratie sowie mit der Rolle von Plattformen und sozialen Netzwerken in Bezug auf Journalismus, Meinungsfreiheit und demokratische Teilhabe.

Frage 16: What is the impact of media convergence and changing financing patterns on quality journalism?

The media landscape is currently on the move – the digitization of technologies and business models puts traditional media in a challenging position. On the one hand, media companies such as television broadcasters, news publishers and radio stations want to position themselves at the edge of innovative competition. On the other hand they want to satisfy their readers’ and viewers’ needs and provide them with high quality journalism.

In a digitized world people are flooded with information which makes it difficult to differentiate between substantiated and light-minded information. Against this background, profound and highly qualitative journalism becomes more important than it has ever been before in order to provide individuals with solid information and orientation. Journalists should have the possibility to dive deeply into a certain subject and complete profound research without the pressure of keeping up with the speed of information flows. Media companies play a very important role in that regard. As employers, they create a stable environment for profound and creative work and valuable journalistic content.

Press publishers, in detail, are delivering news on the local, regional, national and international level. Their products serve all sorts of special interests and offer information, orientation and entertainment. Above, they make their content not only available in print but also on many digital platforms and different formats. Digitization indeed has changed the way how readers find content, and this again has profound consequences for the future sustainability of professionally produced, independent quality journalism. With regards to the shift from print to digital, providing an independently edited press becomes more challenging for press publishers. Press publishers that formerly financed their business through the sale of print products, have to struggle with declining revenues and at the same time invest heavily in order to keep pace with the digitization of content. The way of producing and distributing press content is very different from the pre-digital era. In the digital world, press publishers especially face free-riding on publishers’ services as a huge problem which endangers their financial situation even more.

In order to fulfill their important function in the democratic system, media companies need to ensure and sustain their economic situation. They need a stable and reliable legal framework which allows them to invest in new and innovative business models and keeping up with media convergence while at the same time have their investments protected. In Germany, press publishers and private broadcasters profit from the fact that their efforts and their investments are protected by law.

The European Commission is currently discussing the introduction of a publisher’s right. Especially with regards to media convergence, the ability for publishers to invest in news business models has become even more important. This is why it will be crucial for publishers to have their investments protected by law, in order to be able to offer quality journalism also in the digital environment.

Frage 33: How do developments in media freedom and pluralism impact democracy? Please explain.

Media diversity and freedom of speech are core values of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. They are manifest in our multi-faceted media landscape, which encompasses news media organs from 28 member states. As such, media diversity is a basic condition for well-functioning democracies and has to be preserved. Media play an important role in democracies because they reflect social and political circumstances, shape opinions and contribute to public discourse.

News media also provide a perceptible counterweight to economic and governmental power by exposing wrongdoing and corruption and by holding public officials accountable. They are able to break down global issues to a local level and thereby help to communicate them comprehensibly to individuals. Thus they preserve regional and local identities and support consensus-building.

The role of news media remains inextricably linked to the important contribution that a free and independent media plays in democratic societies. The digital revolution has brought an infinite amount of information – but also misinformation and rumours. Correspondingly, professional high quality journalism and editing is needed more than ever before – be it print, broadcasting or digital news products.

VG Media contributes considerably to media freedom and pluralism by providing stable financing of media companies based on the collective management of copyright and ancillary rights on behalf of 97% of private German radio and television stations: For 2015, VG Media received EUR 44 million in revenues from cable retransmission and other rights in favour of the 163 television and radio broadcasting companies it represents. These amounts, which are passed on in full to its covered members after the deduction of administrative costs, represent a significant refinancing source for the broadcasting companies. For regional and local broadcasting companies in particular, these revenues represent an indispensable part of their annual budget, which they use to refinance and make investments, to pay their staff and plan innovations.
In terms of the enforcement of ancillary copyright for press publishers, VG Media is not yet able to provide comparable data due to the ongoing enforcement efforts towards the largest user of digital press products, which is Google.

Over the past years, the largest user of digital press products, Google, has started a remarkable campaign allying publishers, mostly even national publishers associations by creating funds. In France, Google set up a 60 million Euro fund, in Italy 40 Million as well as a 150 million Euro pan-European “digital news initiative”. It is obvious that instead of acknowledging existing copyright, Google prefers to subsidize the publishers by a one-off payment.

Professor Udo Di Fabio, former judge at the German Federal Constitutional Court, conducted a study stating that fundamental rights such as data protection and freedom of speech are endangered in the digital environment. The study explicitly calls on the legislator to fulfil his obligation to ensure fundamental rights also in digital systems. It is the European legislator’s turn now to close the existing value gap in the online world: the imbalance of responsibility between online intermediaries and media companies (see question 40).

Frage 40: Do you consider that there are specific risks or problems regarding the role of platforms and social media — in relation to pluralism of the journalistic press or more generally — as regards the quality of the democratic debate and the level of engagement? Yes

In recent years, online platforms have more and more taken over the role of media channels that provide high quality content. Platforms such as Facebook, Youtube or iTunes gradually appear as equivalents to traditional media companies – publishers, broadcasters and producers.
Nonetheless, responsibilities are not equally divided: whilst online platforms in the meantime are highly relevant to public opinion making they do not commit to the related responsibilities. Traditional media companies, in contrast, are subject to several regulations or at least do respect many different rules regarding youth protection or human dignity. Consequently, media regulation has to be adapted to new online market players in order to create a level playing field and to close this ‘value gap’.

With regards to online platforms, there are various problems that have to be tackled by regulatory measures concerning transparency, lock-in effects and the filter bubble: users only get to see the content they are most interested in and are not able to get an inside into the conditions under which information is categorised and displayed. On most platforms it is rather obscure for users to figure out why they get to see which content and which data is being used. Due to lock-in effects, users tend to participate actively on only a few platforms. As a consequence, platforms are able to dominate the platform market and shape opinions.

It is therefore highly important for media, users and society as a whole to create a level playing field which guarantees that platforms are subject to corresponding regulations and accept applicable law.