The European Media Freedom Act must be strengthened

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

"On the occasion of Europe Day 2022, celebrating peace and unity in Europe, we wish to reiterate the vital role of a free, independent and pluralistic media in safeguarding Europe’s values. "[Shutterstock / Yavuz Sariyildiz]

The European Commission must take an ambitious approach to the upcoming European Media Freedom Act and consult civil society leaders and industry experts, five journalism organisations write in an open letter.

On the occasion of Europe Day 2022, celebrating peace and unity in Europe, we wish to reiterate the vital role of a free, independent and pluralistic media in safeguarding Europe’s values.

As shown by the dramatic developments caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a resilient and diverse information ecosystem is indispensable in any society, and the lack of it has a devastating impact on democracy. 

The upcoming European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) is a unique opportunity to tackle the threat of media capture and the threat to media financial sustainability in Europe, and to build a robust and resilient media ecosystem across member states. 

We note that the EMFA is to have Article 114 TFEU (internal market) as its legal basis. This is a useful entry point as the free flow of information is essential for the functioning of an effective and prosperous single market.  

That said, the free flow of information cannot itself be guaranteed by the enhancement of free-market rules alone and, if the EMFA is to achieve its goals, it must also recognise the social and political dimensions of information as a public good.

As a group of human rights and journalists’ organisations, we urge the European Commission to take an ambitious approach to the EMFA to help counter the increasing threats to media freedom, independence and pluralism, and thus to one of the foundations of our democratic society. 

In particular, we recommend:

  • Although fundamental, not limiting the scope of the EMFA to the economic dimension of the internal market only, but to take into account also the social and political dimensions, and that information is a public good;
  • Establishing harmonised measures to guarantee media independence and pluralism including on ownership transparency, broadcast licensing and other authorisation requirements, the independence of media regulators and independent public service media, and enhanced media self-regulation. In particular, we call for a harmonised public interest test for ‘media mergers’ as key to guaranteeing media pluralism and avoiding distortion across member states;
  • Establishing EU guidance for direct and indirect State support to the media sector to help end the fragmentation of national rules that undermine the efficiency of the European internal media market, prevent conflicts of interest in the allocation of state funds and end the practice of using state funds to reward complacent coverage and punish critical journalism;
  • Developing multiple routes through which journalism can find support, including an EU fund for media pluralism to finance original and independent journalistic programs and initiatives, and further contribute to the sustainability of the media sector.

We further call on the European Commission to ensure a thorough consultation of civil society and industry experts in the coming months before the EMFA proposal is presented. 

With the EMFA the European Commission has the opportunity to complete the ambitious legislative reforms initiated with the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act and the SLAPPs Directive and to set the foundations for a resilient, pluralistic and free media environment across the EU. The EMFA is the missing piece to guarantee a vibrant, innovative, independent and sustainable media environment, for the benefit of economic actors, journalists and citizens alike.   

Signatories:

ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression

European Federation of Journalists;

Free Press Unlimited;

Global Forum for Media Development;

International Press Institute.

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