Neighbouring rights: AFP spearheads a battle for influence
AFP's battle to institute neighbouring rights in Europe for editors and news agencies saw a major breakthrough in 2018. How did this come about?
Christine Buhagiar: On September 12, members of the European Parliament approved a draft directive on neighbouring rights. This vote was key to start so-called "triologue" negotiations between the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council of member states. Before getting to this point, we had suffered a setback. On July 5, MEPs opposed to the text had united to reject the negotiating mandate. Some people thought at that point that neighbouring rights would never see the light of day.
Christophe Walter-Petit: We took the battle to the second vote expected in September on the content of the text. To give us an added advantage, we decided to hire lobbyists specialised in the arcane ways of Brussels. After a bidding process, we settled on the GPlus consultancy.
Did these consultants change your plan of attack?
CB: GPlus recommended that we make more use of our journalists' voices. The debate was too technical. We had to give it a human form. So we searched within the agency for a well-known journalist who could take up the fight. Sammy Ketz, Baghdad Bureau Chief, accepted the challenge. What we wanted was for him to describe in his own words the impact of the media crisis on journalism, with the knock-on risks for democracy.
CWP: This testimony took the form of an op-ed designed to raise awareness. In the middle of August, we asked our European bureaux to translate the text into all EU languages and got it signed by journalists from 28 countries. We collected more than 120 signatures and landed 140 publications, thanks to the support of the European Newspaper Publishers' Association (ENPA) and the European Magazine Media Association (EMMA).
What form did the lobbying take after this?
CB: Faced with an aggressive email campaign from opponents of the directive, we came up with a small newspaper containing Sammy Ketz's op-ed, an article by the CEOs of European news agencies, graphics showing what a drain internet giants are for online sales and a manifesto translated into 27 languages. All MEPs received a copy on the morning the debate opened.
CWP : GPlus also organised dozens of meetings with MEPs, whom we tried to convince on the eve of the vote. We also took part in debates and an editors' dinner while Sammy gave a news conference, at the same time as Google's press conference with a YouTuber.
Did these efforts pay off?
CB: The text passed by more than 200 votes! The triologue began immediately afterwards but on an unclear basis. Several governments remain basically hostile to the idea. And they want to revisit the inclusion of news agencies in the law, which was added by the parliament at our request. There was a lot of compromises struck to reach an agreement but luckily agencies remained in the text.
CWP: We went to meet permanent representations and released a new op-ed in around 50 publications. The links we established with the ENPA and the EMMA, but also the European Publishers Council (EPC) helped us a lot. Due to their national nature, editors do not have the same firepower as AFP. They were grateful to us and recognised the contribution AFP had made in this battle.
Since 2019, the triologue came to an agreement on the directive. The text was then given the green light in the plenary session of the European Parliament before being definitively adopted, on April 15, 2019, by the European Council. Member states have two years to transpose the directive into their national laws, including the creation of neighbouring rights that will benefit editors and news agencies.