The Civil Liberties Union For Europe (Liberties) welcomes the European Commission's proposed European Media Freedom Act. It is a long-awaited, important milestone to strengthen the free and pluralistic media system and protect journalists and editorial independence across Europe.
“The good news is that the European Media Freedom Act proposal recognizes the main issues in the media market. However, in its current form it fails to properly address the most pressing problems, including growing threats to the independence of national media authorities and public broadcasters, the lack of a publicly available, transparent database of media ownership and the role of toxic state aid and state subsidies. Enforcement will also be crucial, and in this area the proposal needs improving. We should not forget that the Commission has for years declined to launch investigations against the member states, such as Hungary or Poland, where free media is under threat. The Commission should start using existing means in the member states where systemic failures exist," said Eva Simon, senior advocacy officer at Liberties.
Liberties sees the EMFA proposal as an excellent opportunity to further improve the following areas to better protect media freedom in Europe.
Transparency: More transparency is needed in media ownership to protect editorial independence. The EMFA should require a transparent European public database that includes information about the entire beneficial ownership chain of media outlets. Transparency requirements should not apply to bloggers and citizen journalists, to ensure anonymity.
Public broadcasters: Since the independent functioning of public service media is critical for both media freedom and access to information, the existing rules are insufficient to tackle the problems that appear in many EU member states, where the government captures public service media. Therefore, further rules are essential to strengthen the independence of public service media both financially and editorially.
State aid, state subsidies: The transparent and fair allocation of economic resources is central to strengthening media freedom and pluralism. We advocate for removing unjustified exemptions from the text. Similar demands should be made of state aid and state subsidies, which significantly distort the media market in several member states.
Enforcement: Effective enforcement is crucial to maintain or, in certain member states, establish media freedom.. The proposal fails to offer strong oversight and we are uncertain how existing and newly established media rules will be enforced. Furthermore, the Commission has for years declined to launch investigations against the member states, such as Hungary or Poland, where free media is under threat. The Commission should start using existing means in the member states where systemic failures exist.
Media concentration: The most worrisome media concentration problems have not been touched upon - either by the transparency rules of ownership or by enforcement means. For instance, Hungary’s KESMA or Poland’s PKN Orlean hinder properly functioning media systems in these countries.
Download Liberties' full Media Freedom Report 2022 here.