- Ban on forcing journalists to disclose sources and use of spyware against them, except in strictly defined cases
- All media required to be transparent about who owns them
- Fair allocation of state advertising
- Member states have to ensure editorial and functional independence of public media
Parliament and Council negotiators agreed on Friday on a new bill to protect EU journalists from growing threats to media freedom and the industry’s viability.
According to the provisional political agreement between the co-legislators, reached on 15 December 2023 on the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), member states will have to ensure that citizens have access to a plurality of editorially independent media content.
Particularly, EU countries will have to ensure the editorial and functional independence of public media by:
- appointing heads and board members through transparent and non-discriminatory procedures. Their term of office will have to be long enough to guarantee the media’s independence, and dismissing them before the end of their term will be prohibited, except when they no longer meet their performance criteria (judicial review possible);
- transparent and objective funding procedures, as well as sustainable and predictable funding to safeguard independence;
- independent monitoring of media’s political independence, with public reports.
Protection of journalists’ work
Member state authorities will be prohibited from interfering with editorial decisions.
MEPs secured a prohibition on journalists and editors having to disclose their sources, including by detainment, sanctions, office searches or by installing intrusive surveillance software on their devices.
By way of derogation, such interferences will only be permitted on a case-by-case basis ‘by an overriding reason of public interest’, subject to authorisation by a judicial authority. In order to use intrusive surveillance software against journalists, it will also need to be justified for investigations of serious crimes punishable by a custodial sentence in the respective member state. In this case, surveillance measures will have to be regularly reviewed by the judiciary.
Even in these cases, the right of subjects to be informed about ongoing surveillance as well as having to have judicial protection will apply.
To assess media independence, the EMFA will oblige media, including micro-enterprises, to publish information on their direct and indirect owners, including if they are directly or indirectly owned by the state or a public authority, in a national database.
Media will also have to report on funds received from state advertising and on state financial support. This includes funds from non-EU countries.
Provisions against big platforms making arbitrary decisions
MEPs successfully negotiated the creation of a system to ensure that decisions on content moderation by very large online platforms do not negatively affect media freedom.
Platforms will first have to distinguish independent media from non-independent sources. Media would be notified that the platform intends to delete or restrict their content and have 24 hours to respond (shorter timeframe in case of crisis).
If after the reply (or in absence of it) the platform still considers the media content does not comply with its conditions, it can proceed with deleting or restricting. However, if the media considers that the decision does not have sufficient grounds and undermines media freedom, they have the right to bring the case to an out-of-court dispute settlement body and request an opinion from the European Board for Media Services (a new EU board of national regulators to be set up by the EMFA).
Fair allocation of state advertising
To ensure media outlets do not become dependent on state advertising, public funds to media service providers or online platforms will be allocated via open and non-discriminatory procedures, based on public criteria. Member states will have to distribute state advertising expenditure to a wide plurality of media.
Public authorities will publish information every year about their state advertising expenditure, the total annual amount spent and the amounts spent per media service provider or online platform.
“This is a huge win for media freedom,” rapporteur Sabine Verheyen (EPP, DE) said after the deal was agreed. “We have managed to secure all of Parliament's most important demands: editors will be more independent in their decisions, media ownership will be more transparent, and media freedom will not be restricted by big platforms. This is a significant legislative milestone to safeguard the diversity and freedom of our media and protect our democracies”.
“Today’s deal is nothing less than recognition. Recognition of the huge effort and hard work that all journalists do every day, risking their lives to preserve our democracies,” LIBE rapporteur Ramona Strugariu (Renew, RO) said. “It is a huge step towards protecting media freedom and securing a safe environment for journalists and media workers. They deserve it.”
The deal has to be formally approved by the Committee on Culture and Education (January tbc) and by the Parliament as a whole (March plenary tbc), as well as by the Council.