Press freedom organisations call for a strong Media Freedom Act

To mark Europe Day on 9 May 2022, 17 journalists, human rights and press freedom organisations sent an open letter to European Commissioners urging them to take a more ambitious approach to the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) to fully defend the freedom, pluralism and independence of the media.

Writing to Commissioners Vera Jourová, Thierry Breton and Margrethe Vestager, the organisations reiterated the vital role of a free, independent, and pluralistic media in safeguarding Europe’s values, adding that the upcoming European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) is a unique opportunity to tackle the threat of media capture, ensure media financial sustainability in Europe and build a robust and resilient media ecosystem across member states.

The group of organisations noted that the EMFA will have Article 114 TFEU (rules regarding the internal market) as its legal basis which is essential for the functioning of an effective and prosperous single market. However, if the EMFA is to achieve its goals, the groups wrote that the EMFA must also recognise the social and political dimensions of information as a public good.

The organisations proceed to make four key recommendations in their letter. They recommend that the Commission should not limit the scope of the EMFA to the economic dimension of the internal market.

They also advocate establishing harmonised measures to guarantee media independence and pluralism, including ownership transparency, broadcast licensing and other authorisation requirements, the independence of media regulators and independent public service media, and enhanced media self-regulation.

In their letter the organisations also recommend 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 uncritical coverage and punish critical journalism.

They further suggest developing multiple routes through which journalism can find financial support, including an EU fund for media pluralism to finance original and independent journalistic programmes and initiatives, and further contribute to the sustainability of the media sector and 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.

The European Media Freedom Act is planned for adoption in the third quarter of 2022 and lays down rules for the independence of media regulators, promotes transparency of media ownership, and recognises that editorial decisions should be free from interference.

The initiative will focus on eliminating barriers to the establishment and operation of media services and will aim to establish a common framework for advancing the internal market in the media sector, in view of safeguarding media freedom and pluralism in that market and will be coherent with the EU’s efforts in promoting democratic participation and fighting disinformation.

In particular, the European Media Freedom Act will complement the recently adopted recommendation on the protection, safety, and empowerment of journalists, the proposed Digital Services Act package, and the upcoming initiative to protect journalists and rights defenders from abusive litigation (SLAPP).

The letter recognises that “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 of the letter include Article 19, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), European Federation of Journalists (EJF), International Press Institute, and Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

                           
                               
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