An EU leader has criticised British tabloids for creating “division” with its Brexit coverage.
European justice commissioner Věra Jourová took a swipe at UK newspapers in a speech about what she called the “bad version of nationalism” that promotes exclusion and hate.
She spoke out days after the Sun branded EU leaders “dirty rats” for inflicting a humiliation on prime minister Theresa May over the Chequers plan at the recent Salzburg summit.
That was one of two controversial front-pages she singled out as examples of how the media can “sow division.”
The other was a Daily Mail front page from November 2016 which branded three UK judges “enemies of the people” for ruling the government needed Parliament’s consent to trigger Brexit.
Speaking in Vienna on Tuesday, Jourová said the media have played a role in “spreading the disease of exclusion as well as in fighting it.”
And she said: “Media should build the culture of dialogue or, on the contrary, 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.”
Jourová put the headlines down to “enormous pressure” on the newspaper industry from digital, which she said had caused them to cut costs with the result of “less quality reporting.”
She then added: “I would advocate for a European approach to media based on quality and smart regulation, if needed.”
That sparked suggestions that the EU was planning new legislation to regulate the media, which were raised with the European Commission at its daily press conference in Brussels.
Commission deputy chief spokesperson Mina Andreeva insisted no new laws were planned.
Andreeva said of the speech: “She was speaking about the responsibility of the media, which of course you’re all very well aware of the responsibility that you all do have in informing people, and afterwards she said there might be consideration if smart regulation might be needed.
“She didn’t call for smart regulation and as we explained to you there is no new regulation as regards to the media in the pipeline.”
The European Commission has launched a crackdown on “fake news” which includes a code of conduct for popular online platforms like Facebook.
The legislation was brought forward because the EU are concerned about a repeat of the Cambridge Analytica scandal effecting next year’s European elections.
But the UK’s European commissioner, Julian King, said it wouldn’t inhibit tabloid journalism.
“Partisan journalism, freedom of speech, freedom to disagree, freedom in some cases to be a bit disagreeable, is not what we’re targeting here,” he said in April.
“I think there is a rich tradition of partisan journalism in the UK and indeed there may be some colleagues in this room who proudly practice that. That’s not what we’re talking about here.”