EU member state ambassadors have agreed the Council’s position on a new law to safeguard media freedom, pluralism and independence in the EU. The European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) will establish a common framework for media services in the EU internal market and introduce measures aimed at protecting journalists and media providers from political interference while also making it easier for them to operate across the EU’s internal borders.
“I am very pleased that the EU member states have reached this agreement.Media freedom is fundamental to democratic society, yet it faces increasing threats, both from within the EU and abroad.The Council‘s position on the EMFA strengthens protection for media providers and their sources and gives national regulatory authorities more responsibility for cooperating and advising the Commission on the proper functioning of the internal market for media services, while also ensuring that the unique media landscape in each member state can continue to thrive.”
Parisa Liljestrand, Swedish Minister for Culture
Growing threat to media freedom
The proposed regulation responds to rising concerns in the EU about the politicisation of the media as well as lacking transparency of media ownership and of allocation of state advertising to media service providers. It seeks to put in place safeguards to combat political interference in editorial decisions for both private and public service media providers, protect journalists and their sources, and guarantee media freedom and pluralism.
A new media services board
The EMFA builds on the provisions of the 2018 Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), in particular by proposing a new European Board for Media Services to replace the regulators group (ERGA) established under the AVMSD. The board will be composed of national media authorities and will advise and support the Commission to promote the consistent application of key provisions of the new law in all member states, including by providing opinions and helping the Commission to produce guidelines.
The position of the Council
The Council’s mandate maintains the ambition and objectives of the Commission’s proposal while ensuring that the new law is consistent with existing EU legislation, respects national competences in this area, and strikes the right balance between the necessary harmonisation and respect for national differences.
In particular, the Council’s position:
- clarifies the responsibility of the member states to guarantee the plurality, independence and proper functioning of public media providers operating within their borders
- determines the scope of the European Board for Media Services and strengthens its independence
- sets out provisions to strengthen the protection of journalists and journalistic sources and limits the use of coercive measures such as deployment of spyware for the purpose of obtaining such information
- ensures that member states are able to adopt stricter or more detailed rules than those set out in relevant parts of the EMFA
- broadens the scope of the requirements on transparency, both for transparency of ownership which is proposed to apply for all media service providers, and for the transparency of state advertising where the possibility of national exemptions for small entities is significantly reduced
- provides clearer rules on the relationship between very large online platform providers and media service providers that adhere to regulatory or self-regulatory regimes of editorial control and journalistic standards in member states, with the aim to ensure that such content is treated with extra care
The presidency of the Council now has a mandate to begin negotiations with the European Parliament once the latter has established its position on the EMFA regulation. The joint aim of the Commission, Council and Parliament is to conclude the negotiations on the EMFA regulation before the upcoming European Parliament elections.
Media freedom and pluralism are enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights. However, recent reports from the Commission and the Media Pluralism Monitor have highlighted a number of concerns in the EU regarding issues such as the politicisation of the media, transparency of media ownership and the independence of media regulators.
On 16 September 2022 the Commission published its proposal for a regulation establishing a common framework for media services in the internal market. The EMFA proposal sets out new rules to protect media pluralism and independence in the EU. Key elements of the new legislation include:
- an independent public service media with a stable source of funding
- transparency of media ownership
- protection of editorial independence
- safeguards to ensure media pluralism and prevent media concentration
- the European Board for Media Services, a new watchdog for media freedom