Today the European Commission presented the European Media Freedom Act, a long-awaited law to protect journalists from spyware, tackle disinformation and restore media pluralism. According to Dutch S&D MEP’s Thijs Reuten and Paul Tang it is a critical signal at a critical time:
“A large number of European countries, such as Greece, Hungary and Poland, rank alarmingly low in the international media freedom rankings. But the Netherlands also scores low compared to the rest of Europe. The vanishment of local media in countries like the Netherlands and state interference in Hungary endangers democracy. It is a big omission the Commission does not come up with biting proposals to address those issues.”
The law creates a right for all Europeans to plurality of independent media, but above all it increases the rights for European media organisations to do their work without governmental influence and eavesdropping. At the same time, media organisations will be required to provide more information about their corporate structure and ultimate beneficial owners, and mergers will be restricted. National regulators will enforce the law, but will also be subject to a new ‘European Board for Media Services’ that will coordinate cooperation and play a mediating role in conflicts.
Thijs Reuten is optimistic about the proposals, but also cracks a critical note:
“Free independent media are a crucial basic condition for a healthy democracy. This is why the poor state of press freedom in the EU is so concerning. The threat is both internal and external: from governments like in Hungary, Poland and Greece, as well as interference from outside the EU. So the Commission’s bill is not a day too late. The question is whether the plans are ambitious enough. The plan requires national governments and media companies to monitor media independence, but lacks firm penalties to tackle it.”
Paul Tang also looks at the proposal with mixed feelings:
“The Commission puts its finger on the sore spot when it comes to the lack of media pluralism offline as well as online. Facebook, Twitter and Google determine online what people get to see in their timelines and earn money from advertisements to the detriment of media companies, but this bill lacks appropriate solutions to reverse the erosion of funding for media, including local media.”
The proposal presented today will be presented simultaneously to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. They will individually take a position and then negotiate the proposal. The proposal is expected to enter into force around 2024.