Speaking to a GUE/NGL conference in the European Parliament via internet on Thursday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told participants that much of the Panama Papers information has not yet been published due to fear.
Assange reminded the conference that the oligarchs use legal “loopholes” and the publication of information can result in exorbitant costs for the whistleblowers.
Also referring to the process of increasing media monopolisation, Assange added that Google currently controls 80 per cent of online advertising and that the European Union should take action to ensure that its power is not boundless.
The Alternative Media Landscape for Europe event discussed the struggling European media sector, which is affected by the double-edged sword of the economic crisis and the new opportunities created by the “digital revolution”.
Speakers addressed the ways in which problems affecting the media sector have hindered the general public in the EU from accessing in-depth information on key matters of public interest.
Spanish MEP, Miguel Urbán Crespo, described the situation: “The ongoing cases of Luxleaks, Volkswagen and the Panama papers, involving big companies, banks, politicians and other personalities, reveal extent to which we live within a corrupt system and how important the actions of whistle-blowers are for the independent media to guarantee the human right to information.”
Italian MEP, Curzio Maltese, “We must not to be afraid to say that news outlets simply can’t afford to function and that this is a problem for democracy. Journalism should be understood as a public good and protected as such.»
Amidst the ongoing economic crisis, media outlets are increasingly owned by large interest-driven oligopolies, newsrooms are downsized and journalists are left underpaid and without any job security. This has led to a lack of resources to conduct thorough journalistic investigations as well as higher risks for those journalists who do this work without the protection of larger editorial groups.
Giovanni Melogli, from the International Alliance of Journalists, provided data on the decrease in foreign correspondents in Brussels, from 1,300 in 2005 to 900 at present. He highlighted the fact that «while the powers of the European Union have increased, particularly with the Lisbon Treaty, there is a need for more journalists in Brussels, rather than less».
Spanish journalist and founder of the successful Eldiario.es, Ignacio Escolar, told participants that between 2008 and 2015, 12,000 journalists have lost their jobs in Spain. He explained the development of Eldiario.es which grew from 12 journalists in 2012 to 60 at present and became the second online newspaper in Spain, with its income derived primarily from its readers, and its ownership limited to the journalists themselves.
Italian journalist, Gad Lerner, explained the increasing concentration of media ownership which is occurring in Italy, including mergers of large publishing houses Mondadori and Rizzoli, as well as l’Espresso and Itedi.
Panagiotis Konstantinou from tvxs.gr added that “in Greece we need to escape the old triangle of banks, publishers and the state that corrupted our press. Independence is a decisive goal that cannot be sacrificed at the altar of economic sustainability.»
Melogli argued that the EU should intervene to support European news outlets by dedicating a number of Horizon 2020 projects to innovation and financing in the field, while Kostas Arvanitis, Director of Greek radio station, Kokkino, suggested creating a European network of alternative media outlets.
Greek MEP, Stelios Kouloglou, reinforced that any prospect of state support for the media industry must not come with strings attached or threaten the independence of the media.