Media freedom: a new law to protect journalists and press freedom

In recent days, MEPs have given the final green light to the European Media Freedom Act, which aims to protect EU journalists and media from political or economic interference. The new regulation, approved by 464 votes to 92 with 65 abstentions, obliges member states to protect the independence of the media and prohibits any form of interference in editorial decisions.

Protecting the work of journalists

The use of arrests, fines, searches, intrusive surveillance, software installed on electronic devices and other coercive methods to pressure journalists and editors and force them to reveal their sources will be prohibited. Parliament has introduced severe restrictions on the use of spy software, which will only be permitted on a case-by-case basis and with the authorisation of a judicial authority in the investigation of serious crimes punishable by imprisonment. Even in these circumstances, however, the persons concerned will have to be informed after the surveillance has taken place and will then be able to challenge it in court.

Editorial independence of public media

In order to prevent public media from being instrumentalised for political purposes, their managers and board members are to be selected for a sufficiently long term on the basis of transparent and non-discriminatory procedures. Dismissal before the end of the contract will only be allowed if professional requirements are not met.

Funding for public media should be sustainable and predictable and follow transparent and objective procedures.

Ownership Transparency

In order to allow the public to know who controls individual media and what interests may lie behind the ownership, all newspapers, from the largest to the smallest, will be required to publish information on their owners in a national database and indicate whether they are directly or indirectly owned by the state.

Fair distribution of state advertising

The media will also have to report on the funds they receive from state advertising and financial support from the state, even if these come from outside the country. The criteria for allocating these funds to media or online platforms will have to be public, proportionate and non-discriminatory. Finally, information on state advertising expenditure, including the total annual amount and the amount per newspaper, will also have to be published.

Protecting media freedom from large platforms

Another important step: a mechanism has been introduced to prevent very large online platforms, such as Facebook, X or Instagram, from arbitrarily restricting or removing independent media content. After distinguishing independent media from non-independent sources, platforms wishing to take such measures will have to inform those concerned, giving them 24 hours to respond. Only after this time has elapsed will platforms be able to decide to restrict or remove content that does not comply with their conditions. The media will be able to appeal to an out-of-court dispute resolution body and seek the opinion of the European Media Services Board, a committee of national regulators provided for in the new law.

Rapporteur Sabine Verheyen (EPP, DE) said during the debate: “The importance of media plurality for a functioning democracy cannot be emphasised enough. Freedom of the press is under threat all over the world, including in Europe: the murder in Malta, the threats to press freedom in Hungary and many other examples clearly demonstrate this. The European Media Freedom Act is our response to this threat and a milestone in European legislation. It values and protects the dual role of the media as businesses and as guardians of democracy”.

By adopting this legislation, Parliament is responding to citizens’ expectations of the EU, as expressed in the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe: to introduce legislation that addresses threats to media independence and enforces EU competition rules in the media sector in order to prevent large media monopolies and to ensure pluralism and media independence from undue political, corporate and/or foreign interference.

LINK TO APPROVED TEXT

LINK to the World Press Freedom Index