EU Needs New Laws Protecting Reporters and the Traditional Media

Scot Tanner

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USA EU flags / Photo credit: European Union 2015 - European Parliament
USA EU flags / Photo credit: European Union 2015 – European Parliament

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the media and freedom of speech advocates in Denmark on 14th of February 2015 and Charlie Hebdo, in Paris in January 2015, now is the time for the European Union to add new laws for reporters and the media, strengthening freedom of speech and freedom of a responsible press.  The European Convention on Human Rights Article 10 states “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression” and yet continues to state, “The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society ….”  What this states in simple terms is that you have the right to freedom of expression; however, to exercise this right it has consequences, and can therefore be subject to, in my humble opinion, censorship or a lawsuit.

Press Conference with Reporters and Photographers / Photo Credit: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank
Press Conference with Reporters and Photographers / Photo Credit: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

In Europe, countries have different freedom of expression laws for their media and some like Sweden specifically have a Freedom of the Press Act; however, looking to the United States and expanding on their laws might be better suited for an ever evolving and more connected Europe.  Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press are guarantees within the U.S. Constitution, the EU need to adopt freedom of speech unconditionally, and still keep freedom of expression as a means of defining the many different means of speech.  In truly Democratic societies, freedom of speech is needed to encourage the exchange of opposing ideas and learning from them.

Broadsheet Newspapers / Photo Credit: Javier Micora
Broadsheet Newspapers / Photo Credit: Javier Micora

The EU needs to seriously consider adopting a Freedom of a Responsible Press act, that sets up laws for those reporters and media outlets that are a part of the traditional news outlets, newspaper, radio and television, (in Europe these newspapers tend to be referred to as Broadsheets), and then differentiate between tabloid journalism.  For those reporters and media outlets who strive for actual news, they need to be rewarded in the form of ‘freedom of a responsible press’ legislation within the EU nations. European newspapers are dominated by freelance reporters and photographers looking for the money shot of royals or world known celebrities or hacking into people’s personal voicemail to sell newspapers where content is dominated by gossip or alleged truths verses actual researched factual news.  This is something that in the U.S.A. one would see in the National Inquirer or the Globe, which are a tabloid newspapers.  It is referred to as ‘Yellow Journalism‘ and most Americans, like commentator Cyndi Young, do not believe tabloid journalism is journalism.

US Tabloid Press / Photo Credit: brownpau
US Tabloid Press / Photo Credit: brownpau

One European college lecturer tend to focus on New York City and the Daily News stating that the United States has a tabloid press, however, if you reside in Boise, Idaho, Manhattan, Kansas, Eugene, Oregon, Grand Forks, North Dakota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Cheyenne, Wyoming, Cincinnati, Ohio, Hershey, Pennsylvania, Knoxville, Tennessee, St. Louis, Missouri, Savannah, Georgia, Columbia, South Carolina, Baltimore, Maryland, Burlington, Vermont, and Jackson, Mississippi all of these newspapers here have full time and part time reporters and photographers as well as a traditional serious news formatted creditable newspaper.  There is no tabloid news mentality dominating the news within these publications.  New York City (New Amsterdam), New York is not fully representative of life in the U.S.A.  I hate to burst the bubble for Europeans who think this is the greatest place on Earth.  Visit the true U.S.A. by heading into other states and for college lecturers, I challenge you to read the online versions of other American cities’ newspapers to gather how news is reported and exclude NYC, L.A. and Chicago from your list of American newspapers.  Not because they are any less newsworthy rather so that you can truly grasp at the newspaper’s role in American society and to get a better perspective on how news is reported.

USA Today Newspaper / Photo Credit: Canadian Pacific
USA Today Newspaper / Photo Credit: Canadian Pacific

USA Today’s reporter Michael Wolff in January 2015, in an article compared the differences between reporting within the U.S. verses the U.K.  ” The British press and the U.S. press were once remote cultures — with different concerns and standards, and with neither quite translating for the other. But then, with instant access, they became strangely symbiotic. The Brits have more stringent libel laws but less fact-checking; the U.S., more fact-checking but fewer libel restrictions. You could get things into one which you could not get into the other. (When the Guardian feels it can’t report something in Britain, it has given it to The New York Times, which, having published it, makes it safe for the Guardian to publish it, too. PR people often use the non-fact-checking British press to plant positive stories about their clients, which then become the basis for fact-checking — based on “published reports” — in the U.S.)” This example shows how a more responsible press can behave and function in a democratic society when there is an emphasis on ‘fact-checking’ before reporting news, and then as a result libel and defamation laws do not need to drive the news within EU nations. In Europe if there were more full time reporter and photographer jobs within all newspaper and television media, versus the ‘freelance’ mentality, then it would create a more responsible press.  Diminishing the role of the paparazzi (paparazzo)  play in the European media, however, sadly this will not stop the paparazzi.  New legislation came into effect for reporters and photo journalists after the death of Princess Diana, as it was widely thought the paparazzi had been a contributing factor in her death.  CBS News, an American television network’s news division, and their investigative news programme, 48 Hours, have revealed the truth in a February 2015 broadcast.  The paparazzi did NOT play a factor in Princess Diana’s death, but this does not exonerate the paparazzi or tabloid press as their actions have contributed to accidents or extensive breaches of privacy, thus this is why I argue for a differentiation in EU law with new legislation for a Freedom of a Responsible Press law and a tabloid press.  Also, with these two additions to the ECHR then this would offer up more protections for magazines like Charlie Hebdo and political cartoonists throughout the European Union.  I will concede that any legislation changes would not have stopped these attacks and I will digress here on that note.

UK Tabloid Newspapers / Photo Credit: Graham Holliday
UK Tabloid Newspapers / Photo Credit: Graham Holliday

However, I would suggest that the ECHR, should go further and create and adopt a Bill of Human Rights for Europe, so that it is clearly defined same as the Bill of Rights are within the U. S. Constitution, and that it include Freedom of Speech and Freedom of a Responsible Press. I feel with this suggested legislative additions to the ECHR will create more full time jobs within the media.
Either way, Article 10 of the ECHR, does little to fully protect or assist reporters and media outlets when covering the news as it allows for censorship under Article 10, section 2, where it states, ‘may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.’ This again is evidence of the differences between reporting styles within the EU nations and the U.S.A. The EU needs to do more to protect freedom of speech and freedom of a responsible press within Europe. If reporters and media outlets are held to higher standards, the product they all produce will also improve in quality news for Europe and the European Union.

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Scot Tanner

I have worked in news since earning my FCC commercial broadcasting license whilst in secondary school (high school). I have been a radio presenter (on-air talent) whilst in college, during both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I have worked as a reporter for newspaper, radio, TV and online mediums. I firmly believe that everyone has a story to tell. The question is when are you ready to tell me your story?