MEPs tighten rules to protect journalists and media outlets
In response to growing threats to media freedom and the industry’s viability, MEPs adopted their position on a law to strengthen the transparency and independence of EU media.
In its position on the European Media Freedom Act, adopted by 448 votes in favour, 102 against and 75 abstentions on Tuesday, the European Parliament wants to oblige member states to ensure media plurality and protect media independence from governmental, political, economic or private interference.
MEPs want to ban all forms of interference in the editorial decisions of media outlets and prevent external pressure being exerted on journalists, such as forcing them to disclose their sources, accessing encrypted content on their devices, or targeting them with spyware.
The use of spyware may only be justified, MEPs argue, as a ‘last resort’ measure, on a case-by-case basis, and if ordered by an independent judicial authority to investigate a serious crime, such as terrorism or human trafficking.
To assess media independence, Parliament wants to oblige all media, including micro-enterprises, to publish information on their ownership structure.
Members also want the media, including online platforms and search engines, to report on funds they receive from state advertising and on state financial support. This includes funds from non-EU countries.
To ensure that content moderation decisions by very large online platforms do not negatively affect media freedom, MEPs call for the creation of a mechanism to manage content takedown orders. According to MEPs, platforms should first process declarations to distinguish independent media from non-independent sources. Media should then be notified of the platform’s intention to delete or restrict their content alongside a 24-hour window for the media to respond. If, after this period, the platform still considers the media content fails to comply with its terms and conditions, they can proceed with deleting, restricting or referring the case to national regulators to take the final decision without delay. However, if the media provider considers that the platform’s decision does not have sufficient grounds and undermines media freedom, they have the right to bring the case to an out-of-court dispute settlement body.
Member states have to ensure that public media have adequate, sustainable and predictable funding allocated via multiannual budgets, MEPs say.
To ensure media outlets do not become dependent on state advertising, they propose a cap on public advertising allocated to a single media provider, online platform or a search engine at 15% of the total advertising budget allocated by that authority in a given EU country. MEPs want the criteria for allocating public funds to the media to be publicly available.
Parliament also wants the European Board for Media Services – a new EU body to be created via the Media Freedom Act– to be legally and functionally independent from the Commission and able to act independently from it. MEPs also push for an independent “expert group”, representing the media sector and civil society, to advise this new Board.
“We must not turn a blind eye to the worrying state of press freedom worldwide and in Europe,” rapporteur Sabine Verheyen said ahead of the vote. “Media is “not just any business. Beyond its economic dimension, it contributes to education, cultural development and inclusivity in society, protecting fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and access to information. With this bill, we reach an important legislative milestone to safeguard the diversity and freedom of our media landscape and our journalists and protect our democracies”.
After Parliament adopted its position, negotiations with the Council on the final shape of the law can now begin.