Balsemão, Bilderberg and the European Publishers Council
The crossover between the European Publishers Council media lobby group and the 2013 Bilderberg conference, attended by senior politicians and policymakers, raises questions about the private conference as an unregulated and unaccountable lobbying event.
The Portuguese businessman and former Prime Minister, Francisco Pinto Balsemão, is chairman of the European Publishers Council. The EPC is a lobby group on behalf of the publishing industry. Here, in its own words, is what the EPC does:
Since 1991, the EPC has lobbied on over 160 different legislative and other proposals and directives directly or indirectly affecting the day-to-day business of the media industry – from 16 different European Commission departments, four Commission Presidents and over 20 Commissioners and their cabinets, and more than 30 European Parliamentary committees over the four terms.
The EPC is there to help “legislators” form “legislation” relating to “the media industry”:
When talking to the EPC, legislators have access to the most senior executives and decision-makers of Europe’s major media companies for feedback or information on the real or potential impact of proposed legislation.
One of the group’s primary values is “Freedom to regulate ourselves“. The group lobbies to keep regulation as light as possible. As it says, one of the ways the EPC “achieves is goals” is:
“By encouraging the development of the media, old and new, with the lightest of regulatory frameworks so that they can flourish without the outdated legal constraints considered necessary at a time of spectrum scarcity.”
As well as: “By exempting the written word from taxation…”
Some very senior media industry figures are listed as members of the EPC. They include:
- Andrew Miller, Chief Executive, Guardian Media Group
Jim Smith, Chief Executive, Thomson Reuters
Viscount Rothermere, Chairman, Daily Mail and General Trust
John Ridding, Chief Executive, Financial Times Group
Simon Fox, Chief Executive, Trinity Mirror plc
Members at Bilderberg 2013
- Francisco Pinto Balsemão, Chairman EPC; President, Grupo Impresa
Juan Luis Cebrián, Executive Chairman, Group PRISA
Oscar Bronner, Publisher & Editor in Chief, Der Standard
With so many committed lobbyists locked away for three days with so many senior politicians, it is hard not to see the private, off-the-record Bilderberg conference as a high-level lobbying opportunity. And deserving of more openness and accountability.
Ironically, one of the ways the EPC aims to achieve its goals is: “By ensuring access for news reporters and their cameras to events and information which serve the public interest.” But the closed-doors, camera-shy Bilderberg conference obviously doesn’t qualify as such an event.
The Media Lobby and Kenneth Clarke
At the 2012 Bilderberg conference in Chantilly USA, these three EPC members were all present, along with a fourth:
- Jonas Bonnier, President and CEO, Bonnier AB.
The presence, in 2012, of so many senior members of a media lobbying group (who are themselves media proprietors & executives) makes it all the more worrying that Kenneth Clarke MP, while Minister of Justice, failed properly to declare the 2012 conference in his official ministerial declaration of meetings with external organisations. To date (June 2013), he remains in the cabinet, as Minister without Portfolio, and is a member of the Bilderberg Group steering committee.
In July 2011, the Ministerial Code was updated by David Cameron to include the following unambiguous paragraph:
“The Government will be open about its links with the media. All meetings with newspaper and other media proprietors, editors and senior executives will be published quarterly regardless of the purpose of the meeting.”
It is impossible not to include the Bilderberg conference – a private three-day event, with no press oversight, attended by so many senior media lobbyists – as a meeting that should have been declared on these terms.