The Basic domain is fundamental to the evaluation of the risks to media pluralism: The indicators measuring the risk deal with the essential nature of media freedom, the basic conditions for the existence of free speech and of an enabling environment for freedom of expression. The basic domain is, then, the gauging of the risk to democratic debate in a given country.
The indicators of the basic risk domain that are considered in the MPM2014 version are very similar to those that were considered in the MPM2009: They are all legal indicators and they cover the regulatory safeguards for freedom of expression and freedom of the press, the regulatory safeguards for journalists, the level of independence of the NRAs in the media sector, and media literacy. They represent the regulatory backbone of the media sector in every contemporary democracy and they cover four different risks: The risk that freedom of speech and related rights and freedoms are insufficiently protected (B1), the risk that there is insufficient independent supervision in the media sector (B2), the risk of insufficient media literacy (B3). A new risk and a new indicator were introduced: the risk of barriers to the free flow of digital information (B4) this is evaluated through the indicator on regulatory safeguards for the impartial transmission of information on the internet, without regard to content, destination or source.
Figure 1 Basic domain scores per country
The evaluation of the first risk is made through four indicators that received quite good scores across the nine countries of the test implementation. The first indicator is on regulatory safeguards for freedom of expression (1): Of the nine countries, three scored medium risk (Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary), while the others scored a low risk. Most of the countries in the test group benefit from a long regulatory tradition on media freedom. Some problems are raised where, notwithstanding the existence of a regulatory safeguard, continuous regulatory interventions as modifications of the constitution itself; or the introduction of ancillary laws (see the country report on Hungary) can hamper the existence of an established right and probably affect the rules of democracy itself; or where the implementation of the limits to freedom of expression is too broad; or when other restrictions upon freedom of expression (privacy rules, national security rules) are not clear and are narrowly defined in law, and are justifiable as being necessary in a democratic society (in accordance with Art. 10 ECHR).
Indicator 2 on regulatory safeguards for the right to information aims to address the existence of the right to access information that is held by public administrations. This indicator is very broad and it should probably be rephrased in a way that is more focused on the existence of a freedom of expression act (FOIA) and its effective implementation. Six countries show low risk, while three others show a medium risk (Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy).
Media pluralism is the specific subject of indicator 3 that deals with the recognition of media pluralism as being an intrinsic part of media freedoms and/or as the policy objective of media legislation and/or regulation. This indicator is a self-evident starting point for any analysis of media pluralism in a given country. According to the scores, four countries have a low risk, four a medium risk, and one a high risk. It must be noted, then, that the high score is for Estonia, as it belongs to the group of countries in which there are few laws that specifically regulate the media field (see Estonia country report). The lack of regulation and of policies on media pluralism does not mean a clear and present danger in this case, but it does highlight a regulatory void that may potentially create problems and the need for a second step in analysis.
Indicator 4 is on the regulatory safeguards for the journalistic profession. This indicator merges and simplifies the three indicators in the Basic domain on the regulatory safeguards for the journalistic profession provided in MPM2009. Indeed, it covers the former three indicators on journalistic practice, the protection of sources and access to events. According to the scores, two countries show low risk, five medium, and two high (Estonia and Greece).
The other risk, of insufficient independent supervision in the media sector (B2), is covered through the indicator 5 on the regulatory safeguards for the independence and efficiency of the relevant national authorities. This indicator takes into consideration the three authorities that are relevant to the media market. It merges the MPM2009 three indicators in the basic domain on the regulatory safeguards for the independence and efficiency of the media/competition/telecommunications authorities. It is a given, as is logically granted, that these authorities exist. Indeed, besides the media authority, any organisation that has competence in media policy in a given country must also be taken into account. The scoring system is also merged. The scores for this indicator are interesting as they show that 4 out of nine countries have low risk, while two has medium, and three have high risk. The three countries with high risk are Bulgaria, Greece and Hungary. It must be noted, nonetheless, that the structure of this indicator must be revised, as the requirements needed to obtain a low risk score are too strict (see below, section 5.2).
The third risk that is taken into consideration in the basic domain is insufficient media (including digital) literacy (B3). The indicator for this risk is the assessment of the Policies and support measures for media literacy (and particularly digital literacy) among different groups of the population (6). Media literacy is a condition of universal access to information, for the development of critical thinking and awareness, and for effective empowerment of the citizen in a democratic society. The lack of a media literacy policy can be assessed as being a risk to media pluralism. Scores: three countries low and six medium risk.
The last risk within the basic domain is the risk of barriers to the free flow of digital information (B4): this indicator is a newly introduced one and deals with the openness of the internet as a condition for the free flow of information. The indicator for this risk is in the Policy measures for the impartial circulation of internet data, without regard to content, destination or source. This is an indicator that does not assess the existence of a legislative framework and its implementation, but considers whether the country is moving towards a regulatory policy on net neutrality. Quoting the EU Parliament, the EU law should provide “a lasting guarantee that all internet users can in principle openly access or provide any kind of online content, services or applications in accordance with the principle of net neutrality” (EP 3/4/2014). This indicator measures the regulatory policies in this respect and shows that, so far, the states are not approaching this topic in a systematic way: two countries show low risk (Estonia and France), while the rest show a medium risk (Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the UK). It must be noted, nonetheless, that the fact that these countries are not taking any policy or legislative measure to tackle the issue, does not mean automatically a risk for pluralism, as the topic of net neutrality is a European issue and still debated at European level. Most of the EU countries are waiting for a defined and binding policy from the EU: once the policy will be developed, it will be easier to assess if the policy itself will be effectively pluralism-oriented and if the country implemented correctly the rules, accordingly.