Answer given by Vice-President Jourová on behalf of the European Commission
The Commission acknowledged that the COVID-19 crisis has shown the risk that some national measures to tackle the ‘infodemic’ can be used as a pretext to undermine fundamental rights and freedoms in the Union. Measures against COVID-19 are a national responsibility, and the Commission is not in a position to intervene on the matter.
The Commission, within its competences, remains strongly committed to ensuring that freedom of expression is respected, as it lies at the very base of free, democratic and pluralist societies. Restrictive measures should be justified and proportionate. The Commission condemns any action that unjustifiably undermines this right and will monitor relevant Member States’ conducts.
The Commission called upon Member States to intensify efforts to ensure that journalists can work safely, in the right conditions, and recognise news media as an essential service.
Under the European Democracy Action Plan, it has adopted a recommendation on the safety of journalists and is working on a separate initiative to address abusive litigation against journalists and rights defenders. It is preparing a Media Freedom Act to increase transparency, independence and accountability around actions affecting media freedom and pluralism.
As the Commission noted in its reply to Written Question E-003678/2021, Member States should ensure that their policies and administrative procedures safeguard media pluralism and do not interfere negatively with their obligation of ensuring a free, independent and diverse media ecosystem.
When restricting the right to freedom of expression, Member States are to respect the fundamental rights set out in their national law and international instruments, including the European Convention on Human Rights.