Empower Democracy
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Join us in defending a free and independent press in Europe!

17th January 2017

We, the undersigned associations, representing tens of thousands of news and magazine publishers, have initiated a campaign entitled “Empower Democracy”.  We are committed to defending a diverse, free and independent press sector for a democratic Europe.

We will be sending you regular letters with information on the facts, figures, political debate and state of Europe’s media industry with a view to enhancing political discussion on issues affecting the media and press freedom in general.

In the meantime, do not hesitate to contact us if you would like individual briefings or more information on any media-related issues.

  • Interesting fact: Strasbourg is not only the home of the European Parliament – it is also the birthplace of the press! The first newspaper ever – called "Relation” – was published here in September 1605 by Johann Carolus.
  • Interesting stat: WAN-IFRA has estimated that the daily circulation of newspapers in Europe is 80 million and the size of the European market (combined revenue) is over 46 billion USD (2015).

Europe's media landscape is unique in its diversity. It is a basic condition for well- functioning democracies where freedom of speech and pluralism are still a treasure. The benefits of our media landscape are as manifold as the needs of our society.

With the digital revolution, the media landscape has changed forever, as we all know. However, staying in touch with the news is as important as ever for millions of citizens worldwide and the importance of a free and independent press to a healthy democracy is incontrovertible.

Both democracy and the independent press are constantly challenged: Polish journalists still have restrictions on reporting the Polish Parliament; the Turkish Government has imprisoned journalists and, most recently, banned the media from showing footage of the New Years Eve terrorist attack; 1n 2016, worldwide, 93 journalists and media workers were killed (IFJ) and 259 journalists were jailed (CPJ).

News and magazine publishers struggle to monetise the breaking news and in-depth investigative reports, sports coverage and feature writing that is not just popular to read and share across social media, but expensive and often risky to produce. Independent media involve intellectual effort and responsibilities – accomplishments that are not available free of charge.

By 2019, most consumers will be using their smartphones to access media content and they will get to that content via social media, not search.

But the fact that most readers don’t click through to the original news site and that most readers are getting their news via social media is creating two major problems: 1. The news content creators struggle to monetise their content and 2. readers are faced with the prospect of “fake news” – neither good outcomes for the future of independent publishing, professional journalism and a healthy democracy.

Fake news has the potential to undermine democracy as seen in the US elections where articles disseminated on Facebook were thought to have had an impact on the outcome of the US election – a claim hotly disputed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Meanwhile the Czech Government has set up an ‘anti-fake news unit’ in advance of its own elections and new businesses and in-house departments in newspapers are being created to help fact check. It’s another new challenge and one that Europe’s press is responding to head on in the same way as it has handled the digital content revolution.

The fact is, the media has no choice but to meet every challenge – there is too much at stake for it to fail: think about the catastrophic events last year in Berlin, Syria, Nice, Brussels, Yemen; think of the world-changing politics of Brexit and Trump. Then think of the independent, free press that underpins our democracy and consider what’s at stake if it continues to be so easy for others to exploit publishers’ work and earn revenues without taking any of the risks, costs, or legal liability of producing it.

In the words of Christian Van Thillo, CEO of De Persgroep following the Brussels attacks: “It’s at moments like these that news organisations prove their true value – gathering the facts in the most challenging and confusing of circumstances, sorting the truth from the noise, helping people make sense of the senseless…This is when, as a publisher and CEO of a media company, you feel how important media are to society.”

We hope that this information and insight will make a valuable contribution to the political debate on our sector, and that, If you are committed to a democratic Europe with a strong media landscape, you will feel inspired to get involved with our initiative, www.empower-democracy.eu.

© Jacob Ammentorp Lund / iStock.com