Media freedom and pluralism

In “Area of Justice and Fundamental Rights”

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Media freedom and pluralism are part of the rights and principles enshrined in the European Charter on Fundamental Rights and in the European Convention of Human Rights. Moreover, the Copenhagen criteria for membership in the EU include the existence of guarantees for democracy and human rights.

In its resolution of 21 May 2013 on the EU Charter: standard settings for media freedom across the EU, the European Parliament called on the Commission to propose concrete legally binding procedures and mechanisms to safeguard media pluralism, including ensuring that Member States guarantee proper implementation of the Charter on Fundamental Rights, concrete measures to prevent excessive media concentration, and a legislative framework on media ownership rules introducing minimum standards for Member States. It called for developing professional standards and ethical codes related to accuracy, impartiality and objectivity of information, respect for people’s privacy by the media. It underlines the importance of carrying out annual monitoring of media freedom and pluralism in all Member States. Accordingly, the European Parliament funds a Media pluralism monitor, conducted by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom at the European University Institute. The data is collected in a scientific and transparent way. The reports include a quantitative section showing trends, and demonstrating the effects of policy decisions, and a qualitative analytical section.

On 3 May 2018, the Parliament adopted a resolution on Media pluralism and media freedom in the European Union, noting the recent political developments in various Member States that have led to increased pressures on and threats against journalists, and recalling the crucial importance of media freedom, pluralism and independence. It called again on the EU institutions to guarantee full implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as a means to thoroughly uphold media pluralism and media freedom.

Parliament called on the Member States to take appropriate measures, including ensuring adequate public funding, to safeguard and promote a pluralist, independent and free media landscape. It asked the Commission and the Member States to promote and elaborate new socially sustainable economic models aimed at financing and supporting quality and independent journalism and to strengthen financial support to public service providers and investigative journalism while refraining from involvement in editorial decisions. Member States are urged to set up an independent and impartial regulatory body to report violence and threats against journalists and to ensure the protection and safety of journalists at national level, stressing the importance of ensuring efficient legal recourse procedures for journalists whose freedom to work has been threatened, so as to avoid self-censorship. The Commission is invited to propose an anti-SLAPP Directive (strategic lawsuit against public participation) that would protect independent media from vexatious lawsuits aimed at silencing or intimidating them in the EU.

Parliament acknowledges that the new digital environment has exacerbated the problem of the spread of disinformation, or so-called ‘fake’ or ‘false’ news. In this regard, it encouraged social media companies and online platforms to develop tools to enable users to report and flag potential fake news in order to facilitate prompt rectification and to allow for review by independent and impartial certified third party fact checking organisations. Parliament reiterated that cyberbullying, revenge porn and child sexual abuse material are a growing concern and the resolution encouraged all Member States to draw up forward-looking legislation to address these phenomena, including provisions for detection, flagging and removal from social media of content which is manifestly harmful to human dignity.

Parliament reiterated its call on the Commission and the Member States to set up and implement an adequate, advanced and comprehensive framework for common European legislation to protect whistleblowers.

Member States are called on to adopt and implement a media ownership regulation in order to avoid horizontal concentration of ownership in the media sector and indirect and cross-media ownership, and to guarantee transparency, disclosure, and easy accessibility for citizens to information on media ownership, funding sources and management. Members stressed the need to have in place independent monitoring mechanisms to assess the situation of media freedom and media pluralism in the EU. Therefore, the Commission is called on to allocate permanent and adequate funding to support the Media Pluralism Monitor at the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, and to create an annual mechanism for the assessment of the risks to media pluralism in the Member States; monitor and collect information and statistics on media freedom and pluralism within all Member States and to closely analyse cases of the infringement of the fundamental rights of journalists.

Members stressed the need to abolish geoblocking of information media content, thereby allowing EU citizens to access online, on-demand and replay streaming of other Member States’ television channels.

In its response to the EP resolution, the Commission outlines the specific measures addressing the calls of the Parliament as well as its approach towards related measures and policies for the future.

The Commission's proposal of 2021-2027 MFF mentions media pluralism in the context of Measures concerning the digital content, and audiovisual and other media industries. However, it is criticized by influential NGOs, including ECPMF and European Federation of Journalists for the lack of sufficiently clear commitment and priority funding lines for media pluralism.

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Author: Gianluca Sgueo, Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa

As of 20/01/2023.