The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom has called on the European Union and its institutions to negotiate and secure a strong European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) that can “counter media capture and protect editorial independence and media pluralism across Europe”.
In an open letter to the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission published on Friday and signed by 15 leading press freedom and media pluralism organisations, the ECPMF demanded that the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) not be watered down and said claims by publishers opposing the legislation “do not hold up to scrutiny”.
In their letter, they said that although “there is no doubt that state institutions should be kept at an arm’s length” when regulating the media, the EMFA represented an opportunity to slow or prevent media capture in Union members that “we cannot afford to miss”.
They urged “the European institutions to ensure that the EMFA is not watered down and that it has sufficient teeth in particular to address the growing crisis of media capture in EU member states.”
The ECPMF detailed several arguments made against the legislation, offering counterpoints which argued for a stronger EMFA, agreeing that “any regulation impacting media and media freedom must be carefully drafted and vigorously debated.”
They challenged the notion that efforts to make information on media owners behind news organisations would infringe on their rights to privacy, arguing that it is a “legitimate and public interest,” as “the public must know who can exercise influence over the media and what possible conflicts of interest may exist”.
The open letter also opposed the idea that measures to reinforce editorial independence would infringe on individual media organisations’ rights to publish, arguing that “it is vital to protect the integrity of news content from all potential sources of interference”.
The ECPMF also disagreed with the idea that the new European legislation would constitute an overreach by the European Union, counterarguing that the European Board of Media Services specially set up for the task would not be moderating news content, but merely setting standards.
The EMFA was announced last year in a bid to address what the ECPMF characterised as a “crisis in many EU countries,” describing “populist governments and oligarchs collaborating to misuse the power of the state to bolster propaganda and drown out independent media critics”.
The initiative aims to establish a common basis of media freedom safeguards that are applicable throughout the European Union.
Last January, The Shift published an analysis of the EMFA’s proposed guidelines. When compared to the existing structures for media publishers in Malta, the guidelines would spell massive overhauls for the government and its public service broadcaster.
Speaking during the Act’s presentation last September, European Commission Vice-President and Commissioner for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová, said, “For some, it will be too much. For some, it will be too little. For some who say the EU should not regulate the media landscape in Europe, we have a message: we believe the opposite.”
Friday’s open letter was signed by the International Press institute, Access Info Europe, ARTICLE19, Association of European Journalists, Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties), Civil Rights Defenders, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), Ligue des Droits Humains (Belgium), Peace Institute, Ljubljana, and the Society of Journalists, Warsaw