MEPs want editorial decisions better protected from political interference

The Culture and Education Committee of the European Parliament on Thursday (7 September) adopted a draft position on the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), which will boost protection from political interference and increase transparency requirements for media content.

The Culture and Education Committee amended the European Media Freedom Act draft law with 24 votes in favour, three against, and four abstentions so that transparency requirements apply to all media content, not just news and current affairs, as proposed by the European Commission.

Commenting on social media, Maltese MEP David Casa described the European Parliament’s strong position on the EMFA as “good news,” adding that this is “a decisive step forward in guaranteeing editorial independence, especially from government interference” and “that more transparency on financing will improve the market and bolster our democracies”.

Other amendments include more robust protections for journalists’ work, ownership transparency obligations, economic viability, and provisions against arbitrary decisions by big online platforms.

These include provisions prohibiting interference or pressure on media, such as forcing journalists to reveal sources, accessing encrypted information on their devices, and using spyware against them.

Last September, the European Commission introduced the EMFA to enhance protections against the state control of public and commercial media. The act covers various areas such as media concentration, public broadcasters, and online platforms and surveillance.

In May, Politico reported how France pushed for an “explicit and unconditional” clause in the text during Council negotiations to safeguard member countries’ prerogatives on security and defence and for narrower immunity for journalists under the new EU-wide media rules.

In their draft position, MEPs established that spyware may only be justified on a case-by-case basis and if ordered by an independent judicial authority to investigate a serious crime, such as terrorism or human trafficking.

To combat media manipulation through state financing, MEPs propose a cap on public advertising allocated to a single media provider, online platform, or search engine to 15% of the total advertising budget allocated by that authority in each EU country.

MEPs suggest funding public service media through multiannual budgets to prevent political interference and ensure budgetary predictability. They also revised audience measurement rules for more fairness and transparency.

The MEPs also want to oblige outlets to publish information on who owns them and who benefits from them, directly or indirectly and want them to report on state advertising and state financial support, including when they receive public funds from non-EU countries.

After the vote, rapporteur Sabine Verheyen (EPP, DE) said, “The European Media Freedom Act aims to establish greater diversity, freedom, and editorial independence for European media outlets. Media freedom is seriously under threat in several EU countries – this is why the new law needs to pack a punch, not just pay lip service. We strengthened the Commission’s proposal to significantly safeguard media independence and protect journalists while at the same time not weakening our unique cultural differences”.

The adopted text will need to be confirmed by the full Parliament, with a vote scheduled during the 2-5 October plenary, after which MEPs can commence discussions with the Council on the final shape of the law.

The law and its amendments will have a significant impact on Malta’s media landscape, but there is little discourse at a national level about how its obligations would be implemented.

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