In a speech delivered to the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education on Monday (19 April), the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton raised for the first time the prospect of passing a European Media Freedom Act.
The proposal comes amid growing concerns about media freedom in Central and Eastern Europe, as Breton mentioned “worrying developments” for press freedom and media pluralism in Poland, Hungary, Slovenia and Czechia.
Poland and Hungary have been at odds with Brussels for years over the declining rule of law standards. In both countries, the governments have sought to put media under control.
In Slovenia, which takes over the rotating EU presidency on 1 July, Prime Minister Janez Janša has led targeted campaigns against particular outlets such as the Slovenian Press Agency STA, and has also directly targeted journalists themselves.
The European Broadcasting Union wrote earlier in April that public service media in the Czech Republic are under threat.
Also on Monday, the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published their World Press Freedom Index, an annual report that has highlighted growing disparities within the EU in upholding fundamental press freedoms.
‘I personally believe that we should prepare a European Media Freedom Act to complement our legislative arsenal in order to ensure that media freedom and pluralism are the pillars of our democracies.’ the French Commissioner declared.
The European Media Freedom Act should therefore build on the current EU legislation, notably the Audiovisual Media Service Directive (AVMSD), to strengthen the EU’s capacity to monitor and sanction actions that limit or harm press freedom.
It should also develop a common framework for the governance of public media, to counter the politicisation of the public service and to foster diversity and pluralism in the media sector.
Back in December, the Commission launched an Action Plan to support the recovery and transformation of the media and audiovisual sector. The plan aims to mobilise resources to support the recovery of a sector that is fundamental for the democratic process and was hit less hard by the COVID-19 crisis.
Still, the EU financing of the media sector is of little use if the safety of journalists is not ensured. The recent assassination of Greek journalist George Karaivaz was a dramatic reminder that journalists’ safety cannot be taken for granted.
In this regard, the Commission is preparing a recommendation to urge member states to better ensure the safety of journalists. It will however rest within the national policymakers and law enforcement to ensure that journalists can operate safely.
As RFS’ analysis stressed, the very scarce results of the police investigation and judicial proceedings following the murders of Maltese reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia and Slovak Ján Kuciak contribute to creating a sense of impunity for violent crimes against journalists, thereby increasing the perception of danger.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]