EU Council and Parliament agree on EU rules protecting media freedom, pluralism and editorial independence

New rules will protect citizens' right of access to free and plural information, making member states responsible for providing the appropriate conditions and framework to do so, while protecting journalists and media providers from political interference.

Member states have been in negotiations over the new law since October 2023
Member states have been in negotiations over the new law since October 2023

The Council of the European Union and the European Parliament have reached a provisional agreement on a new law to safeguard media freedom, media pluralism and editorial independence in the EU. 

The European media freedom act (EMFA) will establish a common framework for media services in the EU’s internal market and introduce measures aimed at protecting journalists and media providers from political interference, while also making it easier for them to operate across the EU’s internal borders. The new rules will guarantee the right of citizens to access free and plural information and define the responsibility of member states to provide the appropriate conditions and framework to protect it.

The negotiations between the two co-legislators, which were launched on 19 October 2023, have been concluded at the political level with today's agreement.

The proposed regulation responds to rising concerns in the EU about the politicisation of the media, as well as the lack of transparency about media ownership and allocation of state advertising funds to media service providers. It aims to put safeguards in place to combat political interference in editorial decisions for both private and public service media providers, protect journalists and their sources, and guarantee media freedom and pluralism.

Media freedom and pluralism are enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights. However, recent reports from the Commission and the media pluralism monitor have highlighted a number of concerns in the EU regarding issues such as the politicisation of the media, transparency of media ownership and the independence of media regulators.


A new media services board

The EMFA builds on the provisions of the 2018 audiovisual media services directive, broadening its scope to include radio and press. In particular, it introduces an independent European board for media services, that will be composed of national media authorities and will advise and support the Commission to promote the consistent application of key provisions of the new EMFA law and the AVMSD in all member states, including by providing opinions and helping the Commission to produce guidelines.

The compromise text provisionally agreed between the co-legislators maintains the ambition and objectives of the Commission’s proposal while ensuring that the new law is consistent with existing EU legislation, respects national competences in this area, and strikes the right balance between the necessary harmonisation and respect for national differences.

In particular, the provisional agreement clarifies member states’ responsibility to guarantee the plurality, independence and proper functioning of public media providers operating within their borders. It also sets out the obligation for member states to guarantee the effective protection of journalists and media providers in the exercise of their professional activity and prohibits member states from using coercive measures to obtain information about journalists’ sources or confidential communications except in specified cases.

The compromise text broadens the scope of the requirements on transparency, both for transparency of ownership, which is proposed to apply for all media service providers, and for the transparency of state advertising where the possibility of national exemptions for small entities is significantly reduced. It also provides clearer rules on the relationship between very large online platform providers and media service providers.

The deal with the Parliament determines the scope of the Board in its advisory role and strengthens its independence. It also introduces the possibility for the Board to set up a steering group, as well as to consult media representatives on issues beyond the scope of the audiovisual media sector.

Member states will be able to adopt stricter or more detailed rules than those set out in relevant parts of the EMFA.

The provisional agreement must now be endorsed by the Council and the Parliament once the text has been finalised at technical level. It will then be formally adopted by both institutions in the spring of 2024. 

The degree of support or opposition to the European Media Freedom Act varies among Member States, ranging from general support with slight reservations on the part of Portugal and the Netherlands, to a critical assessment by France, Belgium, and Denmark. Germany has registered its opposition to the act.