A group reporting to the European Commission has recommended the regulation of the media and bloggers. It also called for the creation of several new regulatory apparatus for fining, monitoring and chivvying the Press.
The tiny team - two law experts and "new media" attention-seeker Ben Hammersley - are billed as the "High-Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism" and were convened by European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes. The panel is chaired by the former President of Latvia, Professor Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga.
Unsurprisingly, the group proposed that media across the EU needs to be supervised, including bloggers.
"Fair legal regulation is necessary, balancing the new dimension of freedom of expression and the justified rights and interests of other citizens," the group declared in a new report.
"Any new regulatory frameworks must be brought into line with the new reality of a fluid media environment, covering all types of journalistic activities, regardless of the transmission medium."
Then the report's writers take a sharp turn into suggested punishments for hacks who irritate the powers that be, namely fines, grovelling apologies and the ability to stop reporters from doing their job:
All EU countries should have independent media councils. Media councils should have real enforcement powers, such as the imposition of fines, orders for printed or broadcast apologies, or removal of journalistic status.
But wait, who exactly is a journalist? The group doesn't even know - and doesn't want to say. Or as it puts it:
Within the shifting sands of the current media environment, the HLG regrets to refrain from offering any firm and consensual definition of either journalism or journalists.
In another astonishing conclusion, the panel wants more feature articles and news stories written about the continent. According to the report:
The democratic legitimacy of the European Union is closely dependent on the emergence of a public sphere which is informed about European issues and able to engage in debates about them. This requires, in turn, adequate media coverage of European issues and politics.
Of course, funding would be available for this:
The provision of funding for cross-border European media networks (including such items as translation costs, travel and coordination costs) should be an essential component of European media policy. Support for journalists specialised in cross-border topics should be included in such funding.
The report recommends the creation of a "European fundamental rights agency" with "a monitoring role of national-level freedom and pluralism of the media". In addition, we're told "a network of national audio-visual regulatory authorities should be created, on the model of the one created by the electronic communications framework. It would help in sharing common good practices and set quality standards".
"Media literacy should be taught in schools starting at high-school level" and suitably pliant academics will get another reach-around in the form of "an independent monitoring centre, ideally part of academia" part-funded by the EU to do (yet) more monitoring.
And blogs would not be spared from the all-seeing eye.
Some good news for the Guardian
The high-level group told member states that taxpayers should bail out incompetent or irrelevant media businesses, although naturally there would be a beauty contest first (the emphasis is ours):
There should be a provision of state funding for media which are essential for pluralism (including geographical, linguistic, cultural and political pluralism), but are not commercially viable. The state should intervene whenever there is a market failure leading to the under-provision of pluralism, which should be considered as a key public good.
Hope, then, for the beleaguered Guardian newspaper which gives away its material for free on the internet while losing £150,000 a day.
The group's members are former German justice minister Prof Herta Däubler-Gmelin, former European Court of Justice lawyer Prof Luís Miguel Poiares Pessoa Maduro, and Ben Hammersley. Hammersley has tried several jobs including freelancing for this organ. His Wikipedia profile describes him as a "diplomat" on the basis of his appointment as the Prime Minister's "Ambassador to Silicon Roundabout". The more worldly amongst you will spot the problem: "Silicon Roundabout" is not a real country.
The aforementioned proposals are the tip of an iceberg; you can find the full report here. Remember, it's for the Greater Good. ®
The group notes those who provided input for its work. It heard from very few real news businesses, but did meet "Prof Lawrence Lessig, specialist of copyright law and internet governance who gave a presentation on the importance of independence to resist corruption". That'll be this chap, then.