European Media Freedom Act: Cultural Associations and Public Media satisfied with negotiations.

But Journalists are concerned about the use of spyware against them  

By Creatives Unite Newsroom.
October 13, 2023

A broad coalition of ten European organizations has welcomed the improvements to the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), which is currently being negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. The improvements made to several articles, like Article 20 and Recital 38 in an EU Parliament plenary on October 3rd, underline a positive commitment to take into account the concerns of the audiovisual and cultural sectors of Europe. 

In June, a broad coalition of 73 European and national organisations from the audiovisual and cultural sectors sent a joint letter to the Commission, Council and Parliament expressing their concern that the Commission's proposal for a European Media Freedom Act would embed national cultural policies in internal market rules, which could end up disrupting key policies implemented by Member States to support film and TV creation and local Cultural ecosystems.

The signatories welcome the improved amendment, with Article 20 now limited to measures that could affect media pluralism and the editorial independence of media service providers, clarifying that the provision "is not intended to affect national measures implementing Directive 2010/13/EU, provided that they do not affect media pluralism and editorial independence, national measures taken under Article 167 TFEU, national measures taken to promote European works or national measures which are otherwise governed by State aid rules".

Public Service Media’s role guaranteed

The European Parliament also voted for amendments that boost safeguards for public service media against political interference and increase obligations on tech giants to curb the spread of disinformation. Wouter Gekiere of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) described it as "a landmark vote" that improved key parts of the draft European Media Freedom Act (EMFA). The EBU and other public broadcasters had raised concerns the new law did not go far enough to shield them from government meddling. But in the Parliament’s vote, MEPs backed budget protections, banned instructions on reporting, and prevented arbitrary dismissals of public media leaders, marking a significant win. 

The European Media Freedom Act also requires Facebook, Twitter and others to share data on how news content spreads on their platforms. Manufacturers such as Apple must clearly label who bears editorial responsibility for news accessed through phones, tablets and TVs. Gekiere said these steps helped "re-balance the relationship between big tech and media freedom". 

According to the EBU, citizens must have access to professionally produced media content with high editorial standards on platforms where disinformation and misinformation can easily flourish. They must also, be able to identify who bears editorial responsibility for the media content they use. 

  • Article 17 rebalances the relationship between online platforms, their moderation policies and algorithms on the one hand, and media freedom on the other.
  • Article 19 introduces the obligation for device manufacturers and user interfaces to attribute editorial responsibility to media content. 
  • Article 23 adds the obligation to share audience measurement with the media concerned ending once and for all the American perception of neutrality in disseminating content online, thus acknowledging the important role of social networks to deliver content responsibly.

Concerns about the use of spyware against Journalists

The European Commission introduced the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) in September 2022 to combat political interference in editorial decisions, foster media pluralism, and enhance transparency in media ownership. But while the three-way negotiations between the main EU institutions - the Council, Parliament, and Commission - to reach an agreement on a common framework for the legislation that could define the field for decades to come is reaching wide consensus among its stakeholders, it doesn’t succeed to include Journalists and guarantee Journalism’s independence. 

France has advocated for the use of spyware as a means to protect national security. This position has raised concerns among media watchdogs and journalists who argue that it could infringe on press freedom and compromise the confidentiality of journalistic sources. The ongoing Predator scandal supports the argument. 80 European and National organizations (watchdogs, associations and unions) argue for a total ban on the use of spyware against the press. They believe that the protection of press independence and the confidentiality of journalistic sources should be upheld without any limitations. 

According to the Reporters without Borders (RSF), the text adopted by the EU Parliament offers better protection for journalists than that proposed by the EU Council or even the European Commission. Under the EU Parliament's version of the EMFA, surveillance or the use of spyware is allowed as a last resort, for example, if journalists are involved in "serious crimes" such as terrorism or human trafficking. And only after a judge has given the go-ahead.