EU: European Media Freedom Act

ARTICLE 19 is a global human rights organisation that works around the world to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression and information. ARTICLE 19 has also extensive expertise and experience advocating for the protection of media freedom, media pluralism and diversity as fundamental pillars of a democratic system, in accordance with international and regional standards.

The proposal is a significant step in addressing the growing threats to media freedom in the European Union and promoting media independence and pluralism across member states.

The European Commission has published a draft European Media Freedom Act (EMFA). If passed, this new law would represent a major shift in EU policy on the media, and a welcome shot in the arm for democracy across the Union

Proposed reforms

Proposed reforms include a new European Board for Media Services (EBMS), to replace the European Regulators Group for Audio visual Media Services (ERGA). Whilst not a European super regulator, it is a step in that direction, strongly linked to the Commission but with independence from states, justified by a perceived lack of coordination in developing new standards on media pluralism and freedom across the EU.

The Commission has also proposed legally enforceable protection from state interference with editorial decisions of media service providers and personnel. The EBMS or another independent body will hear complaints about breaches of media freedom.

Other proposals include transparency requirements on ownership and on ethical self-regulation of media; protection for public service media, such as new standards for appointment of senior management and security of tenure; and new transparency, reporting, and anti-discrimination rules on the allocation of state resources such as advertising, which have created dependencies, and which have been used to subsidise and reward friendly media in the past.

The Commission’s proposal also recommends establishing new obligations on platforms. The Digital Services Act established the category of Very Large Online Platforms, known as VLOPs. The new legislation will oblige them to label media services and also to protect their distribution, because by changing their recommendation systems, VLOPs can have a huge impact on media audiences.

Finally, there is a proposal for the harmonisation of media ownership rules and procedures. The EMFA obliges all EU states to develop limits, rules and procedures for media mergers that could have an impact on media pluralism and freedom. This stops short of locating media pluralism considerations within the EU Merger Regulation, preferring rather to set out standards for member state administered regimes.

The measures, which are elegantly outlined in a relatively short instrument, should be read alongside the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, and in many cases (in relation to public service media for example) implement rules and standards that have long been agreed by the Council of Europe. Nevertheless, some of the proposals set out earlier in the consultation process have not materialised. For example, the issue of SLAPP suits is not addressed by this legislation, and is subject to a separate policy.

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