A Voice for Europe
Transnational European media are essential for the formation of European public opinion and of a European identity – particularly theses days, in these times of political tension. What media services are already available and how well do they work?
There is already a certain European public sphere alive and kicking: networks are thriving in the realm of culture, art, sports, film, pop music, fashion and, of course, business. We only have to think of the Champions League, the Eurovision Song Contest, the Venice Biennale, the International Film Festival in Berlin and, of course, the daily economic and trade links, not to mention European company mergers and civil society networks.
It is a very different situation, when it comes to reflecting on political questions. This is when transnational reporting seems to be a good deal more difficult. “Political decisions affecting the whole of Europe are discussed only in a very limited way in the individual national public spheres, and this is always done with a clear national perspective in mind,” says Anja Herzog of the Hans Bredow Institute in Hamburg on the Eurotopics online portal. “As a result, citizens are inadequately informed about important political decisions taken at EU level.” As early as 2014, the then President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, stated the problem very clearly: “If something happens in the European Council, then 28 press conferences are held afterwards. If an agreement has been reached, it is announced in the 23 languages of the EU – I achieved this for my country.”
Too little impact on the broader levelNevertheless, the beginnings of a transnational reporting system have already started to get off the ground. Since 1993, Euronews, a TV channel with a decidedly pan-European orientation, has been providing information on the current news situation in thirteen languages. Arte, the culture channel, is also targeting a European audience with its program, rather than a national one. Another example is the US-American online media portal Politico, which has been publishing its own European edition since 2015 in a joint venture with the German publisher, Axel Springer Verlag. Apart from this, various online portals have also specialized in pan-European reporting, such as the Euractiv portal, which was founded in 1999. The aforementioned Eurotopics project takes the form of a daily press conference, which presents articles from 30 European countries in German, English and French.
The only problem is – compared to the national media, all these options are not having any significant impact on the broader level at the moment. This, in turn, has led to a lack of awareness of the importance of Europe for most people, as Anja Herzog of the Hans Bredow Institute said. And if there is a lack of broad public interest, national media find it more difficult to report on EU issues. “There is sometimes also an ignorance of the political processes in Brussels,” said long-term ARD (German public broadcaster) correspondent in Brussels, Rolf-Dieter Krause, in an interview on the German radio station, Deutschlandfunk.
Crisis as a catalystIn the face of the crises which Europe is facing at the moment and which are being further aggravated by the current trend towards the re-nationalisation of many member states, this is not good news. On the other hand, the crises in turn could actually have a catalytic effect – they have, at least, led to the same topics being discussed in Europe at the same time, to public opinions being formed on questions such as austerity policy, tax havens, data security, world trade and the refugee issue. This trend is fuelled by two other factors: the fundamental upheaval of the media sector and the new language technologies. The media companies are seeking and testing new business models to earn money with journalistic content in the digital age. At the same time, it is also a serious economic option to open up new geographic markets. A characteristic of digital transformation is, however, to ignore national borders and thus provide an ideal basis for creating transnational public opinion.
New opportunities in the wake of digital transformationThis is, in fact, being enhanced by the social media, which are already functioning as cross-border platforms, even if there is still an urgent need in the sector for European services. The driving forces behind this innovation, such as Facebook Instant Article, Apple News and Google News Initiative, still stem, however, exclusively from Silicon Valley. Europe urgently needs to promote its own media initiatives and to keep all its options open on questions such as media freedom, identity and the public sphere, as well as on data security and data monopolies.
So far, any attempts to establish purely European media services have also not worked because of language barriers. However, in the next few years new language technologies could make an instantaneous quality translation of content possible. If language technologies continue to develop as rapidly as they are currently being pushed by Amazon, Google and Facebook, it will soon be possible to read the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper in French or Le Monde in Rumanian. And of course, new European media services could also come into being that have a pan-European approach, that are curated and distributed immediately online in the respective language of the reader.
Europe's crises, the upheaval in the media landscape, and the rapid development of language technologies could thus create European media services that report from a European perspective to a European audience. So there is reason for optimism.