Today, the European Commission presented the European Media Freedom Act in a bold attempt to bring the benefits of a free press to all corners of the European Union.
Angela Mills Wade, Executive Director of the European Publishers Council said: “A fundamental tenet of press freedom is a press free from political interference and government surveillance, and we welcome the measures to end state interference in editorial freedom, and the undermining of the rule of law.”
However, there is deep concern amongst Europe’s publishers about crossing the line into controlling the press in countries where press freedom flourishes.
Angela Mills Wade said: “Where press freedom flourishes across most of the EU, news outlets and other publications have the right and freedom to communicate information without influence or fear of retribution from the state or other powerful entities. There is a fine line between establishing principles and safeguards to underpin press freedom and state regulation of the press. It is essential that the new Media Freedom Act does not cross this line, endangering press freedom in the many member states where it flourishes.
One of the most controversial aspects of the proposal for the EPC is the establishment of a new European Media Services Board, comprising regulators empowered to scrutinise aspects of media operations, convened and guided by the European Commission, which is a controversial step change from the current group of independent broadcasting regulators established under the AVMSD.
Angela said: “The EPC is most concerned about the spectre of statutory regulators, originally established for the regulated and licensed audiovisual media, having any powers or oversight over the free press. The free press already upholds the highest journalistic and governance standards. The moment a statutory regulator is given powers to scrutinise any aspect of how newspapers, magazines and other independent publications operate, including a say over editorial functions, the press is no longer free from government oversight. We will be calling on legislators to ensure that the press remains subject only to editorial self-regulatory codes of practice and the general laws, which can be challenged in court.”
The proposal also introduces the idea of an “internal market for media”.
Angela continued: “This concept completely disregards the media and cultural exception, the competence of member states over media regulation and the differences in culture, languages and legal traditions.”
According to the new law, governments will have to declare how much they spend on advertising, and in which media outlets, each year and there will be tighter controls on media ownership and on composition of the boards of state-funded media.
New rules will also include measures for regulators to sanction foreign state-funded media which spread disinformation.
In an effort to address one of the failures of the recently-adopted Digital Services Act, platforms will be required to warn media outlets before they suspend or remove their content based on the tech giants’ own content moderation policies.
Angela said: “We do need clear rules and transparent procedures to prevent gatekeeping platforms from removing editorial content based on their own content moderation policies and we will work with the legislators to develop a workable framework.”
In the coming days EPC will analyse further this proposal that touches the heart of media freedoms and their business operations.
Links to useful docs:
European Media Freedom Act Proposal and Recommendation
European Media Freedom Act Impact Assessment
EC Factpage: European Media Freedom Act
EC Factsheet: European Media Freedom Act
EPC Statement: Bracing for an unprecedented regulatory capture by a so-called ‘Media Freedom’ Regulation
EPC Submission to the public consultation on a European Media Freedom Act