In November 2011, the EESC's yearly civil society media seminar addressed the complex issue of media freedom in the EU and its eastern neighbours. This year, media freedom in the Euro-Mediterranean region will be the central focus.
Anti-government protests and revolutions that have swept through North Africa and the Middle East toppled rulers in their wake and laid the ground for new leaders. However, the region was left in turmoil.
Media – old and new – played a role in these revolutions by helping people to organise themselves and multiply their voices, thus expediting socio-political processes which, according to some, were already underway.
The kind of political future we will see will to some extent depend on whether or not the media has the ability and latitude to make the most of its new-found freedom.
There is no shortage of challenges: the safety of journalists' remains a concern; censorship is never completely out of sight; hate speech is rampant; the formerly state-owned media is struggling to reinvent itself in a new environment; trust needs to be regained; regulation and self-regulation are tricky, ethical and professional standards are being transformed…
Civil society has everything to win from a free and vibrant media. Not only does the latter support and foster civil society but it can also help to make authorities accountable, to put civil society's ideas and principles into action and influence the social change.
Europe need not be a passive bystander. It should not restrict itself to providing moral and political support but should also offer practical peer-to-peer assistance involving civil society and media organisations across the Mediterranean.
Questions abound on what form cooperation and assistance should take and the best answers will come from active stakeholders in the region. Admittedly, Europe has its own challenges and media freedom shortcomings to address, which is why a lively exchange of practices with actors in the Mediterranean region will indubitably benefit the two sides.