Free media, free minds!

Our priorities to create access to free & independent media for all Europeans

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Media Freedom Act landscape v1

Europe to journalists: We’ve got your back!

Recent months have been the most dangerous for journalists in a generation. The Israel-Gaza war alone has already cost the lives of around 100 journalists and media workers. Across the world some 400 journalists were imprisoned last year. And these figures are rising, in a determined effort to create what Unesco calls ‘Zones of silence’, places where the truth is impossible to find out and power goes without scrutiny.

There is no democracy without media freedom.

It’s not just bullets that kill a free press — it’s about the whole ecosystem in which media operate, which needs protecting and investing to save it from a variety of threats. Creeping authoritarianism poisons the media environment. Economic bullying puts pressure on the diversity of the press landscape. Public awareness of press freedom remains weak. Legal tools that form the foundation of our liberal democracies, end up being used against free media.

Europe is not exempt from these pressures.

Though many EU member states score high in Reporters without Borders’ latest analysis on media freedom and the overall gap between EU countries is closing, countries like Hungary or Bulgaria go from bad to worse. Nor is the risk limited to the worst achievers. In an age of security threats and terror, Reporters without Borders highlights, Western Europe in particular ‘struggles to find a balance between security and freedom’, leading to disproportionate curbs on journalists’ activities.

Never take press freedom for granted.

Hence the importance of the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), which just got the green light by the European Parliament. The regulation lays down rules for the proper functioning of the internal market for media services, safeguards editorial independence and shields against harmful legislation, and sets up a European Board for Media Services comprised of national media authorities to make sure problems are monitored and rules are effectively applied. It also deals with adequate funding of public media and demands transparency of privately owned media groups as well as public advertising. Such EU-wide rules and standards will help journalists face precisely the digital, political, economic and legal challenges holding them back at the moment.

The Act also addresses specific threats and protects journalists against the disclosure of their sources and the deployment of intrusive surveillance software. Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has become the sad symbol of the assault on journalism. It’s good to remember that she faced 43 civil and 5 criminal lawsuits at the time of her murder in 2017. Such attacks have dramatically increased, especially in the form of SLAPPs — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation — mostly aimed at individual journalists but also academics, companies and publishers. The use of SLAPPs has exploded since 2016. In Croatia alone, last year some two hundred and fifty lawsuits against journalists were launched.

The Media Freedom Act is our way to avoid any part of Europe becoming a Zone of Silence. It sends a strong message of political vigilance never to let our press be bullied into submission by any means, from lawsuits to spyware, from economic to physical threats. It is the signal our journalists expect and deserve from democratic politicians: We’ve got your back!

Free Media campaign website landscape

Guaranteeing the freedom of the media and enhancing the protection of journalists will remain one of our top political fights before the end of this parliamentary term. Read on to find out more about our 5 priorities to make this happen!

Enhancing transparency

We need transparency of media ownership. Our citizens have the right to know who owns the media they consume every day in order to be able to make informed decisions. Moreover, clarity on how the state authorities and state controlled companies allocate advertising to the media companies is a necessity. Citizens need to know the extent to which the state uses its resources to conduct media campaigns in order to understand the influence it has when it comes to viability of the media market. It is crucial to have also an oversight on how the state authorities use emergency message and if that tool is not missused.

Our citizens have the right to know who owns the media they consume every day in order to be able to make informed decisions.

Protection of journalists

It is essential to create a framework that protects journalists against the disclosure of their sources and against the deployment of spyware. Any action interfering with journalistic sources should be taken in the absolute last resort and only if disposed by a court of law or a judge. We have seen many instances where authorities tried to force journalists to disclose their sources in spite of existing soft-law provisions from the Council of Europe or the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. What is more, the examples of use of Pegasus software to spy on journalists in several Member States are a compelling argument for us to want to strengthen further the standards proposed by the Commission.

Safeguarding editorial independence

Citizens of European Union should have the right to receive unbiased news produced with respect for editorial freedom without any interference. Media owners have the right to determine the overall editorial line of the media outlet they own, but editors in chief and editors should work in full independence from any influence coming from above. Media are businesses, but this is not an ordinary sector as they deliver on the freedom to receive and impart information, the cornerstone to the functioning of our democracies. This freedom cannot coexist with censorship from media moguls, self-censorship by the journalists, or state capture of media landscape. Public service media providers have a special place in our democracies to provide impartial quality news and plurality of opinion. We should make sure that public media have sufficient safeguards for their independence throughout the Union and give the power to the journalists themselves to have legal remedy to fight for their editorial independence.

Public service media providers have a special place in our democracies to provide impartial quality news and plurality of opinion.

No to Putin’s propaganda:

The integrity of the internal market for media services is challenged by providers that systematically engage in disinformation, including by state-controlled providers financed by certain third countries. The continued spread of Putin’s propaganda is not acceptable. Unfortunately, there are still European companies who facilitate the spread of such lies. This is why Renew Europe wants to include media service providers established in the Union in the scope of this Regulation. We also need to create a legal tool so that Member States can react to propaganda without waiting for EU sanctions. In the context of the war, there were many instances, where there was political will and readiness for action to remove some channels, but there was no legal base or procedure to allow for this. Therefore, it is important to create such an ability for regulators to base their decision to remove a disinformation channel on a legal foundation.

Concentration of media markets that influence media pluralism

Excessive concentration of media markets can have severe negative impact on the plurality of news and should be properly scrutinised and assessed. Such assessments should highlight distortions of the functioning of media markets while bring clarity and predictability to market players to facilitate cross-border ownership and foster professional corporate culture of respecting editorial freedom. Media should have a special place in our internal market in order not to distort media pluralism or infringe on their rights to provide quality and professional news. KESMA in Hungary or the acquisition of Polska Press by the state-owned PKN Orlen have destroyed media pluralism and media freedom in these Member States. We cannot stand by and do nothing in this regard. We need to prevent possibilities for such political media captures in other Member States. What we need is a strong assessment of such concentrations in order to avoid these situations being repeated. Having the European wide legal safety-nets and the European Board for Media Services as an additional layer of protection against such cases is therefore absolutely essential.

Watch here our webinar about the Media Freedom Act with the participation European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová.

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