By Elena-Alexandra CALISTRU, member of the EESC Diversity Europe Group

Few places in the world enjoy Europe's solid tradition of upholding the values of free, independent media. However, the advent of digital platforms, illiberal tendencies to shut down access to information, the growing threat to investigative journalists and the crisis generated by COVID-19 are all placing different but simultaneous pressures on the ecosystem that allows that exceptionally free media to exist and fulfil its democratic role.

The EESC recently adopted an opinion on the Commission's Communication on Europe's media in the Digital Decade: an action plan to support recovery and transformation. We particularly welcomed the acknowledgement that these underlying trends and the COVID-19 crisis could, without a strong policy and financial support response, undermine the resilience of Europe's media sector and its democratic role.

The instruments proposed in the Communication encompass a wide range of measures focused on the recovery and transformation of the media industry and on increasing its resilience. For this to happen, steps must be taken to tackle the structural challenges facing the industry and to foster an enabling environment in which the media and civil society are able to participate in an open debate, free from malign interference and disinformation.

However, there are some important points to consider if we want the EU to remain the best possible place for media freedom.

Firstly, measures should be linked to the social realities underlying the discrepancies in the media and audiovisual industry landscape in the different Member States, and to the differing size and needs of local and national media. Financial support must therefore be transparent, accessible and inclusive, especially when it comes to local media and media start-ups. Secondly, civil society must become a partner in this,  in order to empower individuals, strengthen media freedom and counter disinformation through media literacy.

If Europe’s Media Action Plan is to succeed, all stakeholders need to engage in the effort to recognise the media's importance for our democratic values.