Independent journalism is a cornerstone of healthy democracies. However, increasingly polarised political debates, an erosion of trust in traditional media, violence against journalists and an increase in online hate speech pose new threats to freedom of expression in Europe. To counter these threats, action is being taken at the EU level for a European Media Freedom Act.
Renew Europe has set out five priorities for the Act:
1. Enhancing transparency
Transparency about media ownership is much needed. Citizens have the right to know who owns the media they consume every day, and clarity on how the state authorities and state-controlled companies allocate advertising to media companies is a necessity. Citizens must know the extent to which the state uses its resources to conduct media campaigns and oversight on how the state authorities use emergency messages is also needed.
2. 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. Examples of the use of Pegasus software to spy on journalists in several EU Member States are a compelling argument to strengthen and further the standards proposed by the European Commission.
3. Safeguarding editorial independence
European citizens 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. The EU should make sure that public media have sufficient safeguards for their independence throughout the Union and give power to the journalists to have legal means to fight for their editorial independence.
4. No to Putin’s propaganda
The integrity of the EU 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 EU in the scope of this Act.
5. Concentration of media markets that influence media pluralism
Excessive concentration of media markets can have a negative impact on media plurality. Media should have a special place in the EU internal market in order not to distort pluralism or infringe on outlets’ right to provide quality and professional news. A strong assessment of media concentration across the EU is necessary, as well as European-wide legal safety nets and a European Board for Media Services to protect pluralism.