Investigative journalism should be supported in the EU and media independence protected from political and economic pressures, says the Civil Liberties Committee in a resolution on media freedom voted on Thursday. MEPs want annual EU-wide monitoring of media laws and measures, both to protect media freedom and to help prevent excessive media concentration.
The media are a "public watchdog" in a democracy, MEPs stress, calling on the EU and its member states to respect and protect the fundamental right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media. This right is not restricted to the traditional media - it also applies to the social media and other new media vehicles, underlines the resolution.
Monitoring media laws
Changes in media laws and their impact on government interference in the media should be monitored yearly by the European Commission, the Fundamental Rights Agency and/or the European University Institute (EUI) Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, proposes the committee.
Their findings should be published in an annual report and followed by proposals for action, it adds.
"A mechanism of monitoring and reporting on the full respect of media freedom and pluralism across the EU countries should become a regular democratic exercise" said Renate Weber (ALDE, RO) who drafted the resolution.
Protecting journalists from threats
The committee wants to safeguard journalists' independence from the internal pressures of publishers or owners and the external ones of political or economic lobbies.
For editors and journalists, editorial charters or "codes of conduct" are crucial to independence, as they prevent owners, governments or others from interfering with news content, says the text.
The resolution urges the EU and its member states to support investigative journalism, as it monitors democracy and uncovers criminal offences.
"Ethical" journalism should also be promoted in the EU, says the committee, but media regulatory bodies should always be independent and created by the media sector itself. MEPs therefore call on the Commission to propose a "legal instrument" whereby member states ensure "the establishment by the media sector of an independent media regulatory authority". Also, the media sector itself must develop professional standards and ethical codes.
These standards and codes should "include the obligation to indicate a difference between facts and opinions in reporting, the necessity of accuracy, impartiality and objectivity, respect for people's privacy, the duty to correct misinformation and the right of reply", says the resolution.
Member states should also provide legal guarantees to help journalists to protect the confidentiality of sources and "whistle-blowers", adds the text.
MEPs acknowledge that the EU has the power to take legislative measures to guarantee and protect media freedom, but believe that non-legislative initiatives, such as monitoring, self-regulation and codes of conduct, are preferable, given that some of the most striking threats to media freedom in some member states come from newly-adopted laws.
Independence of public media chiefs
Public media chiefs, management boards, media councils and regulatory bodies should be selected on merit and experience, instead of political and partisan criteria, says the resolution. MEPs call on member states to establish guarantees to safeguard their independence from political influence.
The committee also calls for appropriate funding for public service media to guarantee their political and economic independence. Public and private media should play their respective roles in a genuinely balanced dual system, MEPs conclude.
Ensuring access to free and diversified media
The Commission and EU member states should intervene where excessive concentration of the media threatens pluralism and independence, say MEPs, who call on the Commission to table measures to this end.
Details on the ultimate owners of media outlets should be made public, e.g. in a single European register, to enable citizens to check on the interests behind their media, adds the text.
Precarious working conditions
The economic crisis has hit hardest those journalistic genres that are more expensive or take more time to develop, such as investigative journalism and the posting of EU correspondents, MEPs note, stressing that these journalists are essential to ensure the accountability of public and political authorities.
MEPs call on the Commission to do a study on the effects of the crisis and job precariousness in the journalistic community with a view to analysing and trying to remedy their consequences for media freedom and pluralism.
The non-legislative resolution was adopted with 47 votes in favour and six against.
In the chair: Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES)
Procedure: Non-legislative resolution