Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The European Commission presented on Friday its draft of the European Media Freedom Act – an EU-wide regulation aimed to safeguard media pluralism and editorial independence in the Union.
Presenting the proposal, EC Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová noted that the Commission has seen various forms of pressure on the media over the past years. “It is high time to act,” said Jourová. “We need to establish clear principles: no journalist should be spied on because of their job; no public media should be turned into propaganda channel.”
The EMFA would harmonise the national laws across the internal market, mandating a range of rules that member states will have to observe with the goal of protecting the media in their countries.
Provisions proposed in the EMFA aim to prevent governments’ advertising budgets to be used to exert control over the media, to force publishers to provide transparency of their ownership structure, and to take measures to safeguard independence of individual editorial decisions.
The regulation also explicitly aims to protect journalists from becoming targets of spyware, as well as their families. EMFA severely limits the member states’ leeway to conduct surveillance on media and journalists, and introduces provisions aiming to protect the journalists’ sources.
“Media companies play a vital role but are confronted with falling revenues, threats to media freedom and pluralism, the emergence of very large online platforms, and a patchwork of different national rules,” said Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton. “The European Media Freedom Act provides common safeguards at EU level to guarantee a plurality of voices and that our media are able to operate without any interference, be it private or public,” he said, announcing that a new European watchdog will be formed to promote application of these rules and screen media concentrations.
The new watchdog, European Board for Media Services, would replace and expand on the capacity of the existing European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services, and will consist of representatives from national regulators.
“Democracy will work only if journalists have the means and the necessary protection to keep in check those in power and those with power, be it political or economic actors,” said Jourová. She also expressed belief that the proposed draft represents a middle ground between existing expectations of journalists, publishers and tech platforms.
“For some, it will be too much. For some, it will be too little. For some who say the EU should not regulate the media landscape in Europe, we have a message: We believe the opposite,” said Jourová. “Some expected that we would come with something like the Atomic bomb, some expected that we would come with cosmetics. I believe that we are somewhere in the middle.”
International journalists’ organisations mostly hailed the regulation as a long overdue step in the right direction. Publishers, on the other hand, expressed concerns that the new regulation could have a detrimental effect on those parts of the media market in the EU which currently work without problems.
The regulation was seen as particularly problematic by the CCIA Europe tech lobbying group, which represents companies such as Google, Meta and Twitter. Their main problem with the proposed regulation is that it would force online platforms to accept any organisation declaring itself as a media outlet on their platforms.
“This amounts to a must-carry obligation of content for online platforms, which rogue actors could exploit to disseminate abusive, extremist, or illegal content as well as disinformation, such as Russian propaganda, under the pretence of sharing news,” CCIA stated in response to the Commission’s announcement.