When we imagine an assault on free media, we often picture a despotic ruler seeking to consolidate power by silencing voices of opposition. Bangladesh, Egypt and Zimbabwe are but a few arenas where battles for media dominance by the ruling class have left news outlets censored, journalists in jail, and the public deprived of the truth.
In Europe, a different but still pernicious assault on free media is also under way. And while it may be harder to see – no news outlets are being seized by force – if left unchecked its long-term impact is harmful to democracy and economic prosperity.
Buried in pages of amendments to the European Union’s latest privacy proposal, the ePrivacy Regulation, members of the European Parliament recently recommended language that would strip European publishers of the right to monetize their content through advertising, eviscerating the basic business model that has supported journalism for more than 200 years. The new directive would require publishers to grant everyone access to their digital sites, even to users who block their ads, effectively creating a shoplifting entitlement for consumers of news, social media, email services, or entertainment.