With the plan adopted in December 2020, the European Commission seems to have embarked on a new path in media policy. Indeed, while the strengthening of the cultural spaces and structures of the continent has been an ancestral objective, the Plan for the first time directly addresses the issue of information spaces and structures, proposing concrete measures. In other words, the media.
This article describes this plan as well as some points of interest from the point of view of Basque communication channels. Reading this plan will also serve to reflect on communication policies in the Basque Country.
1. Plan of the European Commission
The concern of the European institutions for the protection of the continental communicative and cultural space is not new. For decades, some reference researchers have warned of the need to build a project based on market unification since communication (Schlesinger, 1991). Policies to support the communication space and to consolidate European structures have also been developed for some time. These policies have focused on audiovisual. Indeed, the aim was to strengthen the European identity by strengthening the European communication area. In this area of communication, for its part, the European institutions have seen in the audiovisual field the greatest weaknesses due to the hegemony of American productions. Examples of this are the Television Without Borders Directive (1989), as well as other rules that replace it and seek, inter alia, to protect it from the American audiovisual industry. There is also the MEDIA programme and the next online programme which were launched in the port and which sought to strengthen European audiovisual productions. Or the European Audiovisual Observatory, set up in it, an essential instrument for implementing European communication and culture policies.
At a time when COVID-19 has shaken communication structures, the plan announced by the European Commission in December 2020 has something new. Europe’s media in the digital decade. The An action plan to support recovery and transformation in the news media sector (European Commission, 2020b) goes beyond audiovisual entertainment and focuses directly on the information sector, for the first time within a plan of these dimensions. There was already the European Commission’s concern, especially about digital literacy. But it should not be ruled out that in recent years American and European politics have been aggravated by the Post’s speech and the expansion of the Fables news, which have expanded a new space in which both the victory of Trump and the Tropiezes and the Brexita referendum, mixed with the suspicion of the intervention of external agents (the Russians in the US elections, and the Kingdoms). There are also rumours that feed so much the social discourse of the extreme right. All this has brought to the table the importance of a proper and ‘serious’ information system, as well as the need for public media literacy.
Even though this is a plan in this context, the possibilities that the Basque media can propose must be taken into account.
This is a plan still under discussion (including the European Parliament is preparing its opinion in the summer of 2021), but it is already interesting to see not only what measures are being proposed for the time being, but what concerns are being expressed from the top European political centres around the information sector.
2. Influence of COVID-19 in the communication sector
The COVID-19 pandemic has had serious consequences in the European communication sector. The Plan states that the journalism sector has lost between 30% and 80% of advertising revenue (20% for television) during the domestic period. Cinemas have lost an average of €100,000 per screen and have had to abandon some productions (films, programmes, etc. ). At the same time, previous trends have been reinforced: VOD platforms (Video On Demand) have experienced a significant boom as well as video download points on social networks. Clearly, both in the case of VOD and in the case of streaming video, European structures are small compared to US structures: if you take the 50 largest audiovisual companies in the world, 11% of their income is European companies and 70% of US companies.
These one-off, if one-off consequences and the strengthening of previous trends are a source of concern for the European Commission. The Plan considers the information sector sound and healthy as a key element for democratic regeneration. The Commission regards ideological pluralism and cultural diversity as the values of necessary conservation, necessary for the maintenance of democracy. In this regard, the document stresses the need for pluralism as a basis for democratic debate and as a right to information itself. To put this emphasis in context, it can be illustrative that the European Commission itself has just earmarked EUR 1 million for the creation of an observatory on European media ownership, with the following explanation: ‘Freedom of the media and pluralism are the fundamental pillars of any democratic society and the determining conditions for an open and free democratic debate, which helps to ensure access to different information and opinions. They are contained in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Article 11)1 (European Commission, 2020).
The European Commission also stresses the urgency of establishing effective policies in this area.
It therefore proposes a three-axis plan that has been recovered, transformed and enabled. Measures are planned to address the financial damage resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic under recovery: loans and aid to audiovisual and media companies. Under the title Transformation, measures are taken to address structural problems, such as global competition and the challenges posed by climate change and digitisation. Within the training, finally, two groups of objectives are mentioned, the sector itself, to boost innovation, and citizenship, to facilitate more rational access to the media.
I shall now try to outline some of the measures announced in these three axes.
As has been said, financial aid for the sector is provided under this heading. Creative Europe (Creative Europe) has been used to strengthen the European audiovisual sector. Now, coinciding with the announcement of the extension of the scope of this programme to the information sector, the European Commission has announced: With a budget of 1.4 billion in the period 2014-2020, in the period 2021-2027 will be 2.2 billion, an increase of 58%. This underlines the importance of the Plan. And, as has been said, for the first time it will cover media plurality, journalism or media literacy. A number of measures are proposed for this purpose. Firstly, to facilitate media access to Community funds through the implementation of an information tool on the possibilities for assistance. Secondly, to boost investment in the audiovisual industry by combining funds from the MEDIA sub-programme and private funds. Thirdly, to support media financing through loans and investment aid. A new initiative will be launched to this end: NEWS initiative aimed specifically at supporting the information sector.
The objectives of these measures are, in general, to strengthen the sector and to extend the production of European countries to other countries in order to avoid fragmentation and the production of stronger industries. The plan also notes that new practices of sub-State media, as well as cooperation and media exchange, will be enhanced.
From the Basque Country and from the communication in Basque one can think of a series of measures to follow when defining the conditions. In fact, some of the values to which the plan refers, such as the collaboration between the media, the new business models, etc., are not foreign to the media in Basque. On the other hand, the Basque media industry should also not miss the opportunity to harness the potential European financial support. Remember that from the MEDIA sub-programme only 28 agents from the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country have received support over the last seven years, totaling more than six million euros (Creative Europe Desk Media Euskadi 2021), all in the audiovisual field, following traditional policy. However, it is to be hoped that the media will now have access to this extended budget.
In this line, different measures are proposed for long-term structural changes. The main objectives of these changes are to boost the competitiveness of European media and to contribute to the ecological and digital transition.
To this end, concrete action is proposed to create a shared data space, as the current competitive situation prevents the media from sharing their success or failure data with others. The results of measuring network audiences depend largely on each medium and are very cautious in showing the data. This hinders a thorough and complete knowledge of the market both in demand and supply, which ends up becoming a problem for the sector considered globally. In this respect, the European Commission underlines the importance of an area for sharing information without prejudice to competition involving media, advertising agencies, distributors, creative content and other actors.
This data sharing space will be funded from the Horizon Europe and Digital Europe programmes, providing access to public and private institutions.
In Euskal Herria, the need for a system to measure communication audiences in Basque is currently on the table. In addition, many media outlets in Basque already have experience in sharing their audience data through Hekimen Analytics. It can therefore be considered that these practices correspond to those that the European Commission intends to promote. Attention should therefore also be paid here to analysing the various possibilities that may arise, as well as to giving its practices abroad as an example of good practice.
For the same purpose, the European Commission is preparing every two years a report entitled ‘Media Industry Panorama’, in order to analyse and forecast trends. In this respect, it would be essential that these reports also be given to minority and minority media, as well as to have local actors for the collection and analysis of local information (Basque Cultural Observatory, Basque Media Observatory, etc.). ). And that is that the changes taking place in the communication industry do not affect communication systems in all languages equally. Let us consider, for example, the advantages that artificial intelligence can bring in the field of translation or voice knowledge in large and rich languages, and in which many minority languages will be far from those possibilities, increasing the difference between them.
Other measures are included under this heading, both in the field of audiovisual technology and in the field of the influence of the carbon footprint of communication practices on climate change.
As has been pointed out, under this heading are announced actions aimed at two groups: the media and citizenship.
In the first case, the European Commission intends to increase the extension of European audiovisual products. In the belief that European industry is fragmented from US industries, and that national markets continue to dominate, it is about seeking the expansion of these products by Europe, in order to allow the creation of larger companies.
In our child, this idea and the concrete measures that derive from it should serve, on the one hand, to overcome the border of the Basque film with Euskal Herria, since today there are problems, for example, to disseminate films made in the South in Iparralde (Amézaga y Martínez, 2019). It should also enable Basque products to be better disseminated in Europe. And, obviously, to advance in the dream of a television based on language and not on the territory (Eusko Ikaskuntza, 2018).
Other actions are aimed at training media professionals: exchanges, workshops, campaigns, promotion of diversity, etc. Here too, in our small, I have no doubt that, as the Basque media has much to learn from the experiences of others, they also have much to teach from their own. By way of example, in a context in which the Commission’s plans relate to new models of financing and business, let us remember that when we started using the word crowdfunding projects had already been launched in our environment, based on popular co-financing, in the field of communication, such as four daily newspapers (Egin, Euskaldunon Egunkaria, Gara and Berria 2). It would be indifferent to recall the BERRIA lagun campaign, the Parque Cultural Martín Ugalde, to which we have previously referred the tool Hekimen Analytics, which has a model of overcoming an obstacle seen by the European Commission (not sharing data).
Actions aimed at citizenship are also announced, and media literacy is gaining weight here. The plan defines media literacy as: “Media literacy includes all the technical, cognitive, social, citizen and creative skills that enable citizens to access, have a critical view of and interact with the media” (European Commission, 2020b3). Various measures are mentioned to promote media literacy. Some are the actions that must be carried out by means and platforms, others are institutional campaigns. The role of the school system is also mentioned. The latter coincides with the UNESCO line of work in this area (Catts and Lau, 2008; Wilson et al., 2011).
Seen from Euskal Herria, it will be more clear than from other places that you cannot speak of literacy without speaking language. Bilingual minority languages know that literacy in one language does not mean literacy in the other. With media literacy the same thing happens: the competence to enter the information and communication system of a language and to “access the media, have a critical view of them and interact with them” does not guarantee equal opportunities in the system of the other language. A significant part of the population of Euskal Herria has learned Basque as a second language and its socialization in Basque has been limited to school; neither the house, nor the community of friends, nor the media have had a space for socialization in Basque. Therefore, one could hypothesize the existence of a gap in media literacy in Basque, higher than that existing in Spanish or French. Proof of this would be that many people who have studied in Basque did not know the Basque media world (who they are, what they offer, etc.). ), who had difficulty completing their meaning from a written news in Basque, or who had limitations to enjoy an audiovisual product in Basque. All this brings us to the field of media literacy.
In this regard, in order for the European Commission to support and encourage measures to promote media literacy, it is essential that the issue of media literacy in Basque be put on the table, and here the school is of vital importance, as the European Commission and UNESCO point out.
Finally, the Plan underlines the importance of regulatory bodies. Regulatory bodies play a key role in policy development in an era in which the market seeks to fully absorb and master communications. Therefore, the ERGA (European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services) group, which brings together the European Regulatory Bodies and their Regulatory Bodies, aims to strengthen and intensify cooperation. This is intended to ensure compliance and alignment of European standards with the content disseminated by audiovisual distributors (both media and platforms), as well as the diversity of the supply of VOD catalogues.
2.4 Weaknesses in the Plan
It would be fearful if I wanted to highlight the shortcomings of the plan, because we are talking about very complex policies and complex organisations. However, there is one aspect that is evident not only in this plan, but in many communication plans.
Communication takes place largely in a given language. Much of the information provided by the media is transmitted to us in one language or another. It is therefore incomprehensible that the linguistic factor should not be included in an action plan on communication and information. In fact, it may happen — and it happens — that in the same territory there are communication systems operating in different languages, one strong and one weak, one plural and one ideologically restricted, or one accessible and the other inaccessible. Therefore, languages should be considered as units of analysis both in monitoring the situation (data collection, reports, etc.). as in the proposed actions.
I have already mentioned the issue of media literacy: ‘media literacy’, in the abstract, does not exist. Media literacy is achieved in one language or another. That is why it is not understood how this plan does not address the linguistic issue. In the same vein, it also draws attention to the fact that the European standards referred to in the plan do not include the European Treaty on Regional or Minority Languages.
3. And what about here?
Beyond the measures, the European Commission has highlighted the concern that information is one of the pillars of democracy and the project to be built in Europe. And national and European information systems are currently considered vulnerable by the Commission. On the one hand, the digital age has brought new spaces for information. On the other hand, some existing global trends are very worrying. And thirdly, the measures taken to combat the COVID-19 virus have caused great damage to the system, when the thirst for information has been noticed as never before.
Faced with this concern, the European Commission has put in place a plan in which it is prepared to make a lot of money. For the first time, it has seen the need for a consistent policy beyond the audiovisual field, including in its priorities the field of information. And with urgency in mind. This is probably the main conclusion that can be drawn from the reading of the plan.
What is the situation we are in, from the point of view of the people or the linguistic community? The Basque Country, as a people, does not have a strong communication system, within which the Basque communication system is even weaker (Amezaga, 2020).
Nor can we say, moreover, that the global trends that concern European rulers have less impact on our country. Rumours and false news are also disseminated here; information becomes a spectacle to the detriment of the value of truthfulness; plurality is threatened; and streaming and VOD platforms are rapidly occupying the space of audiovisual consumption, reducing the possibilities of television (and of communication and political language that can be made via television)5.
For its part, COVID-19 has had an important impact on communication in Basque, not always negative, but in some cases very serious, as evidenced by some articles of this Yearbook. On the other hand, according to a report published by Hekimen (Hekimen, 2020), seven out of ten of the association’s partners lost more than 40% of the sale of advertising during their home, and so many have had to abandon a project.
In view of this, a strong communication policy is more than ever needed. General communication plan proposed as a municipality. And within it, placing communication in Basque. Elsewhere, the need for this policy has been vindicated with little success at the moment (Irazabalbeitia, 2020). In this respect, the Commission’s plan allows us to reflect on our own situation and design specific policies for our own situation.
The scant initiative of Basque public institutions in the field of communication and information is both striking and disturbing. The panorama we have (a reality close to the monopoly in the press, a weak communication system in Basque, or a low communicative sovereignty, among others) seems little worrying, or, worse, inevitable. But if the European giants have cause for concern, we too should have them. And consequently, develop sectoral reinforcement plans.
In this regard, perhaps we are missing an opportunity when in the Euskadi Next Plan, designed to take advantage of the billions of funds coming from Europe to deal with the consequences of COVID-19, we do not include any project related to information, and if we incorporate so few projects related to the Basque Country. If the objective of the funds is to overcome the crisis caused by the pandemic and to carry out structural transformations for the future, it is also essential to invest in these areas. This becomes more evident when we see that the European Commission has decided to make this investment.
The Commission’s plan, on the other hand, attaches importance to regulation, as we have already said. And in this area, we also have a big gap in the Basque Country. In fact, the only representation that we Basques have in the regulatory institution that the Commission wants to strengthen, the ERGA, is that of Spain or France. Because in our territory there are no institutions that regulate the field of communications, information and audiovisual, even if they have powers to do so. Consequently, the single regulation comes from Madrid and Paris, while the rest is a free space for private, local and global actors.
It is true that state regulators meet at ERGA and we are not a state, but it is not entirely true. On the one hand, because in some States regulation is divided between different institutions: In Belgium each linguistic community has its own organisation and its representative, for example, and in other countries the representation of the ERGA is broken between the different organisations. Moreover, the EPRA (European Platform of Regulatory Authorities) participates as a listener in the ERGA. And there are regulators from different nations and regions such as the Audiovisual Council of Catalonia or the Audiovisual Council of Andalusia of Andalusia. But the Basques are not in these forums.
The Commission’s plan therefore has something to learn from and take advantage of. The fundamental thing to learn is to look at our country’s information system and our language, and to think whether global trends and local linguistic power relations determine the future of our country and our language; and, if so, to design an effective policy, putting this air from Europe in our favour, among other things.
Opportunities may be extended to the media and Basque institutions to develop concrete projects and plans. We are aware that at least the Department of Culture of the Basque Government has focused on this plan and analyzed it with the media entirely in Basque. Good news, no doubt. The wedge is there what comes out of that look. On the other hand, we must not forget the support that the Creative Europe office has in the Basque Country (Creative Europe Desk Media Euskadi). Actions to strengthen information and communication will be financed by this programme and the work of this office is expected to be supportive.
This Plan offers great opportunities both to reflect on our policies and practices and to get support along the way. Let us seize it for each other.
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1.- The translation is mine, both in this case and in the text fragments of the European Commission that will be highlighted later.
2.- These four projects exceed, in terms of revenue, most of the large crowdfunding projects cited worldwide in Wikipedia.
3.- The European Parliament and the Council are defined as something broader and more specific: “Media literacy” includes the skills, knowledge and understanding skills that enable citizens to use resources effectively and safely. For citizens to be able to access and use information critically, analyze it and generate media content responsibly and safely, it is necessary for citizens to have advanced media literacy skills. Media literacy should not be limited to learning tools and technologies, but should also be an objective of providing citizens with critical thinking to differentiate, analyse and recognise the difference between complex realities" (Directive (EU) 2018/1808).
4.- According to the criteria of the report Media Ownership Monitor of Journalists Without Borders (Reporters Without Borders, d.g. ), there is a risk of over-concentration in a country"s information system if the four main media outlets in each area jointly exceed 50% of the audience and market. A report prepared in 2015 for the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa highlighted the seriousness of the situation in this territory: a single newspaper reached 80% of the audience and 70% of the advertising investment, questioning plurality (Arana et al., 2015). In other Basque territories, in press terms, the situation is not much better.
5.- According to the latest data from the CIES (March 2021), half of the population of Hego Euskal Herria has access to one or more VOD platforms, among which stands out an offer that has only five years among us (CIES, 2021).
6.- In May 2021, EH Bildu proposes to the Basque Parliament the creation by law of the Basque Council of Audiovisual Media (Euskal Herria Bildu, 2021). With this or another proposal, but the creation of this regulatory body would certainly be a major step forward in the organisation of the Basque communication and information area.