Keeping our press out of the EU's hands

With Cameron putting the cat among the pigeons with his referendum promise, it is vital that we keep EU-hands off the press

Picture: European Parliament / Pietro Naj-Oleari
Simon Miller
On 25 January 2013 15:40

So David Cameron has finally said he would give an “in-out” referendum on Europe if he becomes Prime Minister again.

But don’t expect an out vote to be easy to gain. Despite the polls, despite the anti-noise, despite the short-term gains of Ukip, an out vote will be extremely difficult to achieve – and not just because Cameron’s position itself looks rather precarious going into the next general election.

Over the next few years, the warnings from a coalition of self-interested parties, from big business to media to politicians, will be wittering on, screaming disaster and doom if we vote for a Brexit.

The vast apparatus of the European Union will be put into high activity with its fellow travelers in the BBC stretching the idea of unbiased reporting to breaking point.

You see, these people find democracy in general and national democracy in particular to be a pain and an impediment to the project. Those of us that happen to live on the European continental shelf just don’t understand why the EU is good for us. The Eurocrats scratch their heads in disbelief that we might actually want a say in our own affairs.

Take Ed Miliband (please!). He has ruled out backing a referendum and so has his fellow europhile Nick Clegg. For some reason they genuinely believe that we would trust them to make the right decision for the country and hang any idea that the public may want to have a say in this matter.

For the EU, this is a hitch to its plans; but don’t be surprised if the juggernaut rides over us until we give it what it wants.

Will the media prevent this? Well that depends on what the EU does next. The high-level group on Media and pluralism this week recommended a Levenson-style regulator for the whole of Europe, and like Levenson, the fundamentals of press freedom – again one of those annoying things that are necessary in a democracy – will be challenged.

There are some good ideas in the report – the ensuring of access to information for instance. But the thing with a lot of missives from Europe is the language. The tone will lead to the law despite claims about the “respect, the protection, the support and the promotion of pluralism and freedom of the media”.

Take its opening remarks where the HLG says that there “are currently a number of challenges which can potentially restrict journalistic freedom or reduce pluralism, whether through political influence, undue commercial pressures, the changing media landscape with new business models, or the rise of the new media”.

What exactly does political influence mean exactly? Would a regulator take umbrage at coverage of, say, Nigel Farage? How does political influence get defined? In whose favour? And what exactly is undue commercial pressure and how does new media affect pluralism? Or is it the case that it may not be the pluralism that the EU wants us to read?

The HLG also wants us to have EU news, dictated to us in a series of interviews, with a panel composed of national media from across Europe.

I’m all for holding those in power to account, but how exactly would the EU intend to increase “national coverage of EU affairs” but also making that coverage more “pluralist”? Will the news channels or papers be ordered to cover the good news?

Along with the disgusting idea that the EU should be responsible for national journalism, the HLG also proposes that any new framework should cover all types of journalistic activities, regardless of the transmission medium. So for those of you holding out for the web to be the saviour of unrestricted journalism – bad luck, if the HLG gets its way, the web will be monitored and regulated as well.

Continuing with the web, the group also wants channels or mechanisms through which media are delivered to the end user to be entirely neutral in their handling of this content.

What does this actually mean? No news is neutral. Through the reporting, editing and selection of news there is a decision made, sometimes entirely subconsciously rather than deliberate. How can neutrality be assured? Unless, of course, they mean neutrality of a BBC-manner.

The final thing that should set alarm bells ringing is the recommendation that all EU countries should have independent media councils with a politically and culturally balanced and socially diverse membership.

Again, we have all seen what happens with these so-called socially diverse and balanced councils – the group-think, the “correct” thinking, eventually floats to the top destroying any semblance of impartiality.

What is more, these councils apparently would have real enforcement powers, such as the imposition of fines, orders for printed or broadcast apologies, or removal of journalistic status.

The HKG added: “The national media councils should follow a set of European-wide standards and be monitored by the Commission to ensure that they comply with European values.”

And there’s the nub of the matter: compliance with European values. How are European values to be defined? I am sure that these values are meant to refer to press freedoms and plurality. However, considering there is already a provision in the Lisbon Treaty which, if logically followed to conclusion, could potentially see prison sentences for criticising the EU, it is easy to see that if they can stop anti-EU sentiment at source then so much the better.

You see, and you will certainly see it if Cameron does win the next election, the EU doesn’t particularly like democracy. It certainly doesn't like those on Grub Street that have the temerity to point out its corruption, scandals and bureaucratic, corporatistic foundations.

The road to the referendum will be one of lies, half-lies and false statistics. It will be one where the concept of national identity and control will be at the forefront. And the concept of national self-determination begins with a free press.

Simon Miller is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator

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