Professor Petros Iosifidis claims major concerns with European media are putting democracy at risk after researching media in Greece for a European Parliament report.

Published (Updated )

A sociologist from City has contributed to a European Parliament report about problems with media ownership and independence in EU countries.

Professor Petros Iosifidis provided findings from his research on journalism and broadcasting in Greece, one of seven countries analysed in the study.

According to the media policy expert, evidence from across Europe shows that issues with the media are so serious that they could pose risks to democracy in certain regions.

The report found that close relationships between politicians and media organisations were linked to a “dysfunction of democracy” and prevented citizens from scrutinising governments.

Professor Iosifidis, of the Department of Sociology, explained that in many countries the media is controlled by a small number of companies, and this lack of “pluralism” means citizens are not exposed to diverse perspectives.

"This study found that the examined southern and eastern European media systems are characterised by non-transparent relationships between political and economic elites,” he said.

“These relationships adversely affect the media market and have an impact on pluralism and freedom of speech. Together with the high levels of concentration of private media ownership, as well as the weakening media sector due to the ongoing financial crisis and consequent closure of media outlets, the very function of democracy may be at risk.”

The study was commissioned by the European Parliament's Policy Department for Citizens' Rights and Constitutional Affairs, at the request of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

Called A comparative analysis of media freedom and pluralism in the EU Member States, the project involved conducting comparative research on seven Member States of the European Union: Bulgaria, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Romania.

A team of local experts, including Professor Iosifidis, ensured that accurate and up-to-date qualitative information was collected on informal structural features of the media markets under scrutiny. The research was carried out between 2nd May 2016 and 22nd July 2016.

Professor Iosifidis’ work involved archival study, documentary research and informal interviews with media regulators, academics and journalists in Greece.

The authors argue that democratic processes in several EU countries are suffering from systemic failure, with the result that “the basic conditions of media pluralism are not present”. At the same time, it is claimed the distortion in media pluralism is hampering the proper functioning of democracy.

The report outlines six policy recommendations to address the situation:

1) A regular, biennial assessment of potential risks to media pluralism should be carried out in each Member State by an independent committee of experts, appointed by the European Commission.

2) A specific directive on state aid to the media sector should be adopted that would set out the principles of providing state aid to both commercial media outlets and to public service media.

3) The Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) should be amended to include an obligation on Member States to achieve and maintain pluralism using their own instruments, and a clear definition of the elements of pluralism.

4) Each Member State should create and maintain a public database containing all direct and indirect owners of media companies up to the natural persons, with links to cross-ownership in the media sector and in the sector that is affected by public funds.

5) The e-commerce directive should be updated in order to relieve platform providers of any liability for third-party content and to harmonise the divergent MS jurisdictions in this regard.

6) Educational projects should be undertaken as preventative policy instruments to support the long-term goal of building a free, pluralistic and democratic media system.