Members' Research Service By / March 22, 2023

Culture and media [European Youth Event 2023]

Each EU member country is responsible for its own cultural policy. However, under the EU Treaties, the EU is obliged to support their efforts to preserve cultural diversity and cultural heritage.

© Anton Gvozdikov / Adobe Stock

Written by Tarja Laaninen and Magdalena Pasikowska-Schnass.

The European Youth Event will bring together thousands of young people in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, on 9 and 10 June 2023, to share ideas about the future of Europe. This introduction to one of the major topics to be discussed during the EYE event is one of 11 prepared by the Parliament’s Research Service (EPRS). It offers an overview of the main lines of EU action and policy in the area concerned, and aims to act as a starting point for discussions during the event. You can find them all on this link.

Each EU member country is responsible for its own cultural policy. However, under the EU Treaties, the EU is obliged to support their efforts to preserve cultural diversity and cultural heritage. One pillar of our democracy – an independent media – plays an important role in our culture. It helps to shape public opinion and hold those in power to account. Innovative proposals to boost media freedom and pluralism in the EU are expected in 2023.

Culture is a European issue

Culture – from artistic output to customs, language and religion – plays a fundamental role in human life as a source of identity. It also makes a significant contribution to the EU economy. The arts, culture and creative sectors accounted for 4.4 % of EU gross domestic product in 2019. In 2021, the culture sector employed 3.6 % of the total EU workforce, with twice as many self-employed people as the EU average.

Each EU country decides its own cultural policy. However, under the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, the EU must support (including financially), supplement and coordinate EU countries’ efforts to preserve cultural diversity and cultural heritage across the EU. This support aims at helping the culture and creative sectors face challenges including increasing digitisation, market fragmentation along language barriers, global competition, and difficult access to funding for micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises.

The EU supports culture through a variety of initiatives, including the European Capitals of Culture scheme and various prizes in film, architecture, literature and music. The Music Moves Europe Awards, a prize for popular and contemporary music, are co-organised by the Eurosonic and Reeperbahn Music Festivals. Previous winners of the European Border Breakers Awards include Stromae, Dua Lipa and Adele, among many other young European talents. The Creative Europe and Horizon Europe programmes, and the New European Bauhaus initiative offer funding or support for cultural projects. In addition, regional policy funds support cultural events, cultural tourism, regeneration of cultural sites, preservation of cultural heritage, and cultural and creative sector businesses. They help local and regional authorities support their cultural life and community participation, make their regions more attractive to visitors and investors, and help regional economies do better, thanks to well-developed culture and creative sectors.

Digitisation has transformed every aspect of the cultural sector: creation, production, dissemination/distribution, exhibition/reception, and consumption/participation. Culture and artistic creation have gone digital, and technology has given rise to new art forms, including video games. Technology is key to democratic access to these cultural goods and services. Digital content travels faster than traditional media, and increases and potentially diversifies the cultural works on offer. However, while it empowers public access, digitisation nevertheless favours dominant players in the market. It can also widen the gap between privileged groups and the individuals, social groups, regions and countries who have less easy access to the internet or equipment, or who have lower levels of digital skills.

A wealth of digital cultural content is available online for free, for a fee, or in pirated versions. This abundance of cultural content and the various ways to consult it online bring new challenges to attract our attention and direct it to specific content, monetise content, and ensure creators get fair pay for their work.

Algorithms that steer us to content that is similar to what we have already consumed, or that others have liked, can seem to be the only way to navigate the profusion of online content from all over the world. However, such algorithm-driven (social) media services, can lead to us becoming vulnerable to deliberate disinformation. Boosting our media literacy is an important counter to such negative effects. The use of algorithms also means audiences may not get the same opportunities or information. It can lead to a lack of diversity in the audiovisual content we consume, and undermine local content. Moreover, when linguistic minorities do not feature online or do not promote their language, there is a risk of ‘digital extinction’, because algorithms do not have enough good quality data to feature the content. On the other hand, the internet can be a powerful tool for language revitalisation connecting diaspora communities. Creation supported by artificial intelligence also raises concerns regarding European artists’ digital skills, and copyright issues.

Media – Watchdog or politicians’ ‘poodle’?

To make sound political choices, we often turn to the media for information. However, the media play other important roles – providing independent analysis of what is happening in the world, and acting as the ‘watchdogs’ of our democracies by holding our representatives to account.  

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European media freedom act [Policy podcast]

Media freedom and pluralism are part of the rights and principles enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and in the European Convention on Human Rights. The Audiovisual Media Services Directive provides EU-wide media content standards for both traditional television broadcasts and on-demand services, as well as for video-sharing platforms.

With the 2024 European elections on the horizon, in 2023 the EU is set to adopt new laws to protect media freedom and pluralism in our democracies. These include a proposal, known as the anti-SLAPPs directive, to protect journalists, as well as anyone else exercising their right to freedom of expression, from abusive lawsuits. A particular form of harassment, strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) are used primarily to stop journalists and human rights defenders reporting on matters of public interest, such as corruption. The proposed law provides the courts and people targeted by SLAPPs with the tools to fight back against baseless or abusive court proceedings. The European Commission’s proposal is currently under discussion in Parliament and the Council.

The proposed European media freedom act aims at protecting our independent media from the threat of government pressure, such as being forced to repeat propaganda or spy on journalists. The proposed law is under discussion in the Parliament and the Council. If adopted, the media freedom act would set rules protecting media pluralism and independence in the EU, including safeguards against political interference in editorial decisions. It would also address transparency in media ownership. To ensure that media outlets that provide government-friendly views are not subsidised covertly, public authorities would have to inform us of their advertising expenditure. The EU rules would better protect journalistic sources, and spying on journalists would become more difficult.

These new proposed laws are part of the ongoing European democracy action plan, designed to empower citizens and build resilient democracies across the EU, by promoting free and fair elections, strengthening media freedom and countering disinformation.

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