Free and independent press is a cornerstone of democratic systems and holds those accountable to account. In turn, accurate and independent information allows citizens to actively scrutinise political actors, make informed political choices and exercise their right to receive reliable information, which has an important impact on the exercise of other fundamental rights. Yet media freedom around the world is increasingly restricted or subject to state interference.
In light of a steady decline in media freedom and pluralism across the EU, shrinking civic space and deep and fast transformation of the news media business model, on 16 September 2022 Vice President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová and Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton presented the European Commission’s proposal for a European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), along with the Recommendations on internal safeguards for editorial independence and ownership transparency in the media sector.
On this webpage, we provide you with all the elements you need to understand why legislation on media freedom is important in the EU, how the legislation process will unfold and what the different positions on the matter are.
Do you want to be kept up to date about any progress on this file? Contact our Policy Officer at [email protected].
What you should know
Why is the EU proposing regulation on media freedom?
Media freedom and pluralism are vital for democracy, as they enable citizens to gather timely and factual information on governments and the state of the world in general. The media plays a crucial role in ensuring that political actors are held accountable for their actions and that people in positions of power cannot act as they wish without consequences.
In her 2021 State of the Union Address, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed the importance of media freedom for democracy and vowed to protect journalists from attacks on their editorial independence and, increasingly, their lives. To this end, she promised the Commission would deliver a Media Freedom Act in 2022 which would ensure better safeguards to protect journalists, their work, and media freedom. The Commission delivered when it published the EMFA proposal on 16 September 2022.
The European Democracy Action Plan (EDAP) also includes a pledge of the Commission to protect the safety of journalists from threats to life and abusive use of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) and to propose further measures to support media pluralism and to strengthen transparency of media ownership and state advertising.
What is the European Media Freedom Act?
The European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) was proposed as a tool that can be directly applied to all EU Member States and their citizens in order to safeguard media freedom and media pluralism. As the EMFA is proposed as a regulation, it does not need to be transposed by Member States and would therefore allow fewer amendments by national governments seeking to make the legislation ineffective.
The EMFA proposal focuses on, among others:
- Spyware use against journalists,
- Interference in editorial decisions,
- Funding of public service media,
- State advertising in media,
- Media ownership transparency,
- Establishment of a European Board for Media Services,
- Assessment of media mergers, and
- Online content removal.
What are the key issues at stake?
Independence of media: The EMFA includes safeguards ensuring that journalists and media editors are protected from external pressure, such as the prohibition of interference or influencing of editorial decisions by Member States. A limited use of spyware against journalists is still allowed under the proposal for reasons of national security. A debate is to be expected on whether the proposed safeguards are enough or if they need to be strengthened.
State advertising: State advertising is an heavily felt issue across the EU. Without EU-imposed obligations, governments are covertly granting public money to friendly media to promote positive voices and stifle dissent and criticism. Civil society advocates for fully transparent and fair rules for the assignment of state advertising to media service providers, including public subsidies.
Media ownership: In the past few years i, for example in Czechia, media ownership by political actors has posed a massive problem, fueled by a lack of legislation applicable to these relationships. Transparency of media ownership is necessary for these ties to be uncovered and controlled. However, this issue is only covered in the non-binding Commission Recommendations published along with the EMFA proposal. Efforts can be expected to move the recommendations on the transparency of media ownership into the EMFA itself.
European Board for Media Services: A new body is proposed to implement, monitor and advise regarding issues related to media within the EU – the European Board for Media Services (the Board). The Board would replace and succeed the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA) and be composed of national regulators. Many in the civil society space are concerned that the Board will not be independent enough from the influence of the Commission and the national governments and will thus be inefficient in ensuring media freedom and pluralism.
“Media privilege”: Proposed under Article 17,“media privilege” aims at helping media service providers get a better position when dealing with online content deletion and suspension. Under this Article, organisations would be able to self-declare themselves as media on very large online platforms (VLOPs) and as a result be given additional advantages. Civil rights organisations warn it may open the doors to disinformation and propaganda published by “media”, whether truly independent or not.
Who does the European Media Freedom Act address?
The EMFA would affect:
- Media service providers
- Very large online platforms (VLOPs)
- National governments
- National media regulators
Who are the key policy makers?
The European Commission proposed the EMFA on 16 September 2022. The overview of the Commission’s efforts can be found here.
The European Parliament is currently in a preparatory phase regarding the EMFA. Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) has been pre-designated as the committee responsible, with the Committees on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), with Geoffroy Didier (EPP) foreseen as co-rapporteur, asked to give an opinion.
Within the Council, the proposal is discussed in the Audiovisual and Media Working Party. A progress report was presented by the Czech Presidency on 29 November 2022 at the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council. The file will now be handled by the Swedish Presidency (first half of 2023) and the Spanish Presidency (second half of 2023).
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) adopted its opinion on the file on 14 December 2022.
Where do we stand with the legislation process?
After the publication of the EMFA proposal, the Commission is now gathering feedback from citizens and organisations until 23 January 2023. It will then evaluate the received information.
Within the European Parliament, the lead committee in charge of the EMFA will be the CULT Committee while the IMCO Committee will get shared competence on the entire draft law, after a deal was struck between chairs of the European Parliament’s Committees. Negotiations are still ongoing with the LIBE Committee.
The Commission hopes to adopt the EMFA before the end of its term in October 2024.
EU documentation on media freedom
- European Media Freedom Act
- Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL establishing a common framework for media services in the internal market (European Media Freedom Act) and amending Directive 2010/13/EU
- COMMISSION RECOMMENDATION (EU) 2022/1634 of 16 September 2022 on internal safeguards for editorial independence and ownership transparency in the media sector
- European Media Freedom Act Impact Assessment
- European Media Freedom Act 2022/0277(COD)
- Briefing – EU Legislation in process: European media freedom act
Council of the European Union
- Regulation establishing the European Media Freedom Act ‒ Progress report, Interinstitutional File: 2022/0277(COD)
European Economic and Social Committee
- OPINION – European Economic and Social Committee – European Media Freedom Act. Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a common framework for media services in the internal market (European Media Freedom Act) and amending Directive 2010/13/EU [COM(2022) 457 final – 2022/0277 (COD)]
European Data Protection Supervisor
- Opinion 24/2022 on the Proposal for a Regulation establishing a common framework for media services in the internal market (European Media Freedom Act) and amending Directive 2010/13/EU
European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services
Further readings on media freedom in the European Union
- ARTICLE 19 (2022). Response to the European Commission’s public consultation for European Media Freedom Act, here.
- ARTICLE 19 (2022). EU: ARTICLE 19’s recommendations for the European Media Freedom Act, here.
- ARTICLE 19 (2022). EU: Media Freedom Act is an important step in safeguarding media plurality, here.
- Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (2022). Study on media plurality and diversity online, here.
- Deme, D. (2022). Opinion: The EU’s Media Freedom Act is a Concealed Threat to the Freedom of Speech, here.
- EU Disinfo Lab (2022). The European Commission’s EMFA proposal is paving the way for the media exemption to come back, here.
- European Audiovisual Observatory (2022). The proposal for a European Media Freedom Act, here.
- European Audiovisual Observatory (2021). Transparency of media ownership, here.
- European Broadcasting Union (2022). European Media Freedom Act: The EBU’s response to the public consultation, here.
- European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (2022). Joint Statement on the Proposal for the European Media Freedom Act, here.
- European Parliament (2021). Media Action Plan: Policy Recommendations, here.
- European Commission (2020). European democracy action plan, COM (2020) 790 final, here.
- European Commission (2020). Europe’s Media in the Digital Decade: An Action Plan to Support Recovery and Transformation, COM/2020/784 final, here.
- European Federation of Journalists (2023). The European Media Freedom Act – EFJ Position, here.
- European Federation of Journalists (2022). EFJ welcomes European Media Freedom Act but calls for strengthening , here.
- European Parliament (2021) Media Action Plan: Key challenges related to media pluralism, media freedom and democracy, here.
- European Parliament (2021). Europe’s media in the digital decade: An action plan to support recovery and transformation in the news media sector, here.
- European Parliament (2021). Resolution on Europe’s Media in the Digital Decade: and Action Plant to Support Recovery and Transfromation (2021/2017 (INI)), here.
- European Parliament (2020). Resolution on strengthening media freedom: the protection of journalists in Europe, hate speech, disinformation and the role of platforms (2020/2009 (INI)), here.
- European University Institute (2022). Monitoring Media Pluralism in the Digital Era: Application of the Media Pluralism Monitor in the European Union, Albania, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey in the year 2021, here.
- Galaski, J. (2023). Liberties’ Take To Make Media Freedom Stronger In The EU: EMFA Policy Brief, here.
- Global Forum for Media Development (2022). Joint Statement on the Proposal for the European Media Freedom Act, here.
- International Press Institute (2022). European Media Freedom Act breaks significant new ground, here.
- Kolaja, M. (2022). Pros and Cons of the European Media Freedom Act, here.
- Martini, M. (2022). Why are EU public registers going offline, and what’s next for corporate transparency?, here.
- Media Freedom Rapid Response (2022). Joint Statement on the Proposal for the European Media Freedom Act, here.
- MediaLab (2022). Media Freedom Act: help now avoid ‘other Trumps and Ukraines’, here.
- Nenadić, I. (2022). What is state advertising, and why is it such a big problem for media freedom in Europe?, here.
- Rappler (2022). Maria Ressa, Dmitry Muratov’s 10-point plan to address the information crisis, here.
- Živković, M. F. & Leaković, K. (2022). Indirect and Direct Subsidies for Media: The European Experience, here.
- Živković, M. F. (2016), Alternative Models for Independent Media Funding: Who Will Pay for Journalism?, here.
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