“Democracy, the press and free enterprise are inextricably bound up,” says Roberto Civita, director of the Brazilian magazine Veja, the most widely read in Latin America: defending free speech would entail protecting the freedom of businesses, starting with the press. But what happens when a political leader is elected on a programme that includes challenging the interests of the private sector and media bosses? Ever since leaders determined to end (or try to end) neoliberalism came to power in Latin America, and parties defending the traditional elite became weaker, the media has had a mission. As Judith Brito, editor of the conservative Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo, puts it: “Since the opposition has been weakened so much, it is the media that effectively fulfils this role” (O Globo, 18 March 2010) — sometimes very inventively.
In this system, the EU’s role – defending the European values of media freedom and pluralism – is further justified by the need to protect its own representative democracy. After all, free and democratic European parliamentary elections could be called into question if some of the member states in which they are held lack media freedom and pluralism.
The fact that the group’s recommendations do not align with much of the media’s reporting on them suggests either that the group’s report overstates its intentions, or that the reading of some media outlets has been skewed. Reports that the group’s recommendations would empower the EU to protect media freedom, not to regulate the media – and even criticism that the recommendations leave too much to national authorities – support the latter interpretation. They also raise questions about why some in the media read so much EU control into the report; maybe the fact that it was an EU report meant more than its content.
The announcement that the La Nación newspaper of Chile is closing down has drawn the attention of journalists, analysts and opposition lawmakers to the heavy concentration of press ownership, now in the hands of only two business groups, and to the lack of regulations to ensure media pluralism.
“The state must create public media in areas (press, radio or television) where there is a high concentration of ownership,” said Marcelo Castillo, head of the Chilean Association of Journalists.
Furthermore, “public communication policies are needed that go beyond the mere existence of media,” he said.
At present, the only state electronic media outlet is National Television of Chile, an autonomous company with a seven-member board nominated by the president and ratified by the Senate.
Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, today warned that the lawsuit initiated by the official Hungarian News Agency against journalist György Balavany can constrain media pluralism on the Internet.
“I am concerned that the Hungarian News Agency filed a lawsuit against the journalist simply because he published critical blogs,” Mijatović said. “Freedom of expression is an essential element of any democracy, and it is not limited to statements acceptable to all.”