EU Watch

Czech Presidency Should Push for Ambitious Media Freedom Act to Protect EU Democracy

Czechia should use its term helming the Council to push for a properly functioning media system that protects and strengthens EU values and democracy.

by Eva Simon and Jascha Galaski

The European Commission is finalizing its proposal for the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), upcoming legislation that has the potential to greatly protect and strengthen media freedom in Europe.

Numerous threats could be confronted

Prague has said that it will make the Media Freedom Act a priority of its Presidency of the Council of the EU. However, the statement the Czech Presidency published recently is evasive and meaningless.

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The EMFA could dramatically bolster media independence and pluralism, enhance protections of journalists and media workers, and safeguard freedom of expression and information therefore it should be top priority for the Council.

The EMFA also offers an opportunity to address the numerous threats that actors across the EU media landscape face. Political pressure on both public and private media, media concentration, lack of transparency in ownership, non-independent media regulatory authorities and partial public service broadcasting in a significant number of EU member states, improper allocation of state aid and subsidies, financial sustainability, and protection of journalists are among the most pressing issues.

What should be in it

The Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties) urges the European Commission to propose a strong EMFA that will tackle these challenges and protect the values the EU is built upon. To this end, we recommend the following:

  • The EMFA should provide a transparent, up-to-date, publicly available European database that includes information about the entire beneficial ownership chain of media outlets.
  • The EU should define rules for concentration and develop merger conditionality rules for the European media market.
  • The EMFA should tackle the appointment mechanism of national media authority members and revise the Audiovisual Media Services Directive.
  • The EMFA should explicitly define the basic principles of granting state aid and
    subsidies to media companies. These principles should include political impartiality, transparency of funding, accountability, eligibility, and feasibility.
  • Explore flexible digital payment solutions to encourage content distribution and provide income to media outlets.
  • Establish a multi-level enforcement mechanism of overarching qualities of media freedom and pluralism. The Commission, with an independent Board and the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA), should have a role in enforcement with proper human and financial resources to ensure a stronger role.
  • The EU should ensure the proper implementation of the Recommendation on the protection of journalists and the Whistleblowing Directive. New measures to protect journalists from SLAPPs should be adopted as a matter of urgency.
  • Ensure that EMFA is not in conflict with the Digital Services Act. Therefore, media exemption should not be brought back through EMFA.

  • A can’t-miss opportunity

    The EMFA could reshape the EU media landscape for the better, improving Europeans’ access to quality media and strengthening and enriching Europe’s media environment. But it can only do this if it is equipped with the necessary tools, and if it is given the priority it deserves.

    Now all eyes will be on the Commission as it finalizes its draft, and on the Czechs to see if they follow through and indeed prioritize this much-needed legislation.

    You may also be interested in:

    Liberties Media Freedom Report 2022 Shows Worrisome Decline in Media Freedom Across Europe

    How The EU Can Use A Can’t-Miss Opportunity To Protect Media Freedom

    Speechbag Podcast E03: The Legacy Of Daphne Caruana Galizia & What The EU Should Do To Protect Journalists, NGOs

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