The latest Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM2021), released on 20 July by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF), includes valuable information on the state of media pluralism across European countries. Reflecting on the year 2020, the report found that the editorial autonomy of media in the majority of European countries is in danger, calling for more widespread and appropriate self-regulation.
The MPM2021 stressed the need to respect the independence of journalists and media, in addition to creating a favourable environment for media pluralism to guarantee freedom of information. Therefore, effective self-regulation, in the form of codes of conduct, codes of ethics or editorial statutes, is of particular importance. Through the indicator ‘Editorial autonomy', the report looked at the existence and effectiveness of these regulatory and self-regulatory measures in 27 EU member states and 5 candidate countries.
Results show that the freedom of journalists and editors to make decisions without inference (be it the owners of the publication or external political pressure) is at risk in 26 out of the 32 countries analysed, and at high risk in 14 countries. In line with last year's report, Croatia and Turkey continue to be the highest scoring countries for this indicator, closely followed by Hungary, Poland, Albania and Montenegro where systemic cases of political interference in media content and appointment and dismissal of editors-in-chief, next to a lack of efficient regulatory safeguards, are regular issues.
On the other hand, six countries have effective journalistic self-regulation and no reported politically motivated appointments or dismissals of editors-in-chief: Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. Sweden, one of the lowest risk countries (3%), regulates editorial autonomy through the Swedish Freedom of the Press Act (TF), and the majority of Swedish media follow a number of self-regulatory/voluntary codes of conduct developed by Swedish media and journalist organisations. In Germany, the German Press Council's self-regulatory framework, which ensures independence from political influence, is effectively applied by all major news media.
What about social media?
With the rise of social media use, the professional and personal online presence of journalists could blur and create tensions between journalistic objectivity and transparency (journalists sharing their political views, for example) creating a need for appropriate regulation and guidelines for journalists on these platforms.
The report notes that while the vast majority of countries do not have social media guidelines for journalists - or those in place can potentially limit their freedom of expression - a growing number of news organisations are publishing social media guidelines. For example in Germany, all public broadcasters have guidelines for proper use of social media. They are primarily aimed at limiting liability and preserving the company's brand image.
Overall, the report recommends that journalists and their professional associations become more engaged in creating effective self-regulation, especially at a time when journalism is increasingly produced online.