The Sun has hit back at the European Justice Comissioner after she criticised its recent front page attack on the European Union and the “two-bit mobsters” who run it.
In a speech in Vienna yesterday, Vera Jourova spoke out against the rise of nationalism that promotes “exclusion and hatred” and said the Brexit debate was a good example of this.
Speaking at a forum on fundamental rights in Europe, Jourova criticised two front pages about Brexit in the Sun and the Daily Mail, which were published following the EU Referendum of June 2016.
Last Friday, after Theresa May’s Chequers deal was rejected by EU leaders in Salzburg, the Sun splashed on a comment piece headlined: “Our Brexit message to… EU dirty rats.”
On 4 November that year, a Daily Mail splash declared the judges who ruled Brexit could not be triggered without a parliamentary vote were “Enemies of the People”, alongside photos of the three men in question.
Jourova said: “Media can build the culture of dialogue or sow divisions, spread disinformation and encourage exclusion. The Brexit debate is the best example of that.
“Again, do you remember the first page of a popular British daily calling the judges the ‘enemy of the people’? Or just last week, the EU leaders were called ‘dirty rats’ on another first page.
“Almost daily we could find examples of stories that are spiced up to point out the enemy – to paint the picture black and white.”
Jourova acknowledged that traditional media is “under enormous pressure from the digital world” with falling circulations and advertising revenue meaning they are forced to cut staff, which she said had resulted in “less fact-checking, less quality reporting”.
She added: “I would advocate for a European approach to media based on quality and smart regulation, if needed.” Although it’s not entirely clear what “smart regulation” would entail.
The Sun has reported Jourova’s speech as a “public attack on The Sun” by Brussels and an “EU press gag bid”.
In its leader column today, the Sun returned fire on Jourova, saying: “Hands up if you know who Vera Jourova is. No, us neither.”
It added: “Turns out Europe’s Justice Commissioner — for it is she — wants new regulation on the media as punishment for reporting the EU’s failings.
“This isn’t much of a surprise. This no-mark’s Wikipedia page reveals that she’s enjoyed a lifelong ride on the Brussels gravy train.
“Away from plans to muzzle the free press, another bit of the Brussels beast is refusing to let taxpayers see the details of their MEPs’ expenses.
“So much for increased transparency. It’s not our headlines or our coverage turning people off the EU. It manages that itself well enough.”
However a spokesperson for the European Commission denied that Jourova was calling for any new legislation, telling Press Gazette she was calling for more responsibility of all actors, politicians, media and opinion leaders.
They added that she had already raised the issue of “smart regulation” in an earlier speech this summer in the context of the role of public broadcasters and private media.
Jourova also said in her speech yesterday that public broadcasters and independent media should be supported “more broadly than just following the laws of markets”.
“Fundamental rights must be a part of public discourse in the media,” she added. “They have to belong to the media.”
She went on to emphasise the role of the media in holding politicians to account and “defining the limits of what is ‘unacceptable’ in a society”.
“I was in Malta, where I visited the grave of Daphne, in the presence of her parents, husband, sisters and son,” Jourova said.
“I told her son that I wouldn’t be his mother’s friend, if she were alive. Because it is not our role to be friends with journalists.
“They do a job that is uncomfortable for us, but we have to respect the crucial role they play for democracy.”