The plenary chamber was abuzz and women’s hearts were fluttering on Wednesday, 28 June, but it wasn’t because of any MEP debate or new legislation. It was because actor Hugh Grant had entered the European Parliament.
Grant was in the Parliament to advocate at the Pan-European Forum on Media Pluralism and New Media for less media-owner concentration. He participated in a panel discussion on media ownership, control and concentration with representatives from Germany, Portugal and Italy.
Grant has made it his mission to fight against phone hacking and press intrusion, and some say his role in that may be one of the biggest in his career. Grant became especially interested in this topic after it was exposed that the media in the UK, especially News of the World, had been involved in phone hacking.
“It has started to be revealed how shocking, unethical and perhaps criminal our press really are.”
Grant has taken an active role in campaigning for the UK’s Leveson Inquiry, a two-part inquiry investigating the role of the press and police in phone-hacking scandals. The inquiry has called on witnesses and evidence to examine the relationship of the press with the police, public and politicians. Grant said he wants a new regulation system to be created that will protect good journalism and ward off the bad.
Many people have asked how something so corrupt could happen in the UK, a democratic society. Grant’s answer: fear from concentration of media. Grant said that Rupert Murdoch, who controls News Corp., had too much power and “no one had the balls to stand up to him.”
Grant said the relationship between the media and the state must be mutual and fair; the government can’t control the media, but the media also can’t control the government, like in the case of Murdoch’s media conglomerate.
A debate broke out between Grant and Italy’s Mediaset representative Gina Nieri on the issue of media independence. Nieri denied that there was an unhealthy relationship between the Italian government and the media and denied that Mediaset holds a dominant position within the media landscape. Mediaset, Italy’s largest commercial broadcaster, was created by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and is still controlled with a 38.9% stake by his family holding company Fininvest.
Grant implied that Nieri wasn’t a credible source on Italian media independence because she “works for Berlusconi.” He also said the situation in Italy seems to be a strange hybrid of the state controlling the media and media controlling the state.
To fight against these sort of unhealthy relationships, Grant has been campaigning for a European Union directive that would limit the influence of media moguls and stop media monopolies.
Grant thinks there is a greater chance of getting something done on the EU level. “The EU is uniquely placed to take action on over-concentration of media ownership,” Grant said. Grant met with European Commissioner Neelie Kroes and Parliament President Martin Schulz before the panel discussion.
The Commission and the Parliament understand they will have to enter the area of media law, but there are still concerns and hesitancies. MEP Claude Moraes said the Parliament was pushed into the area of media law after Hungary passed several laws that threatened media freedom.
Moraes said the Parliament will have to work “carefully and sensitively” in the area of media law, and MEPs will be dealing with this area of legislation whether they, or the public, like it or not.