Media law that challenges state control of public broadcaster heads for Council talks

Negotiations with Council ministers will determine extent of Media Freedom law that seeks to create autonomous and independent public broadcasters

The law seeks to force governments to put into place measures that guarantee the editorial independence of public broadcasters
The law seeks to force governments to put into place measures that guarantee the editorial independence of public broadcasters

MEPs adopted their position on a law that seeks to strengthen the transparency and independence of EU media.

Adopted by 448 votes in favour, 102 against and 75 abstentions on Tuesday, the law seeks to oblige member states to ensure media plurality and protect media independence from governmental, political, economic or private interference.

The next step will be for lead MEPs to start negotiations on the law with the Council.

MEPs want to ban all forms of interference in the editorial decisions of media outlets and prevent external pressure being exerted on journalists, such as forcing them to disclose their sources.

The main question will be to what degree this law, after negotiatons with member states, will force governments to extricate themselves from control or influence on public broadcasters, and whether positive obligations will be created on member states.

The law could have wide ramifications for Malta’s national broadcaster, whose close control by central government has been a bone of contention for decades since the liberalisation of the broadcast media.

Under the compromise text, member states will have to ensure – either by law or actions – that public broadcasters have full autonomy and editorial independence from governmental, political, economic or private vested interest.

Member states will be told to ensure the principles of “independence, accountability, effectiveness, transparency and openness” are respected in public broadcaster’s management structures by appointing them in a transparent, open and non-discriminatory procedure.

Directors’ terms will also be established in national law and be sufficient to ensure effective independence of the public media service provider.

Member States will also have to ensure that public service media providers have “adequate, sustainable and predictable financial resources on a multiannual basis for the fulfilment of their public service remit.”

An independent authority will determine the financial needs appropriate for public service media providers.


Disclosure on ownership and funds

To assess media independence, Parliament wants to oblige all media, including micro-enterprises, to publish information on their ownership structure.

Members also want media, including online platforms and search engines, to report on funds they receive from state advertising and on state financial support. This includes funds from non-EU countries.

Member states have to ensure that public media have adequate, sustainable and predictable funding allocated via multiannual budgets, MEPs say.

To ensure media outlets do not become dependent on state advertising, they propose a cap on public advertising allocated to a single media provider, online platform or a search engine at 15% of the total advertising budget allocated by that authority in a given EU country. MEPs want the criteria for allocating public funds to media to be publicly available.

MEPs also wants the European Board for Media Services – a new EU body to be created via the Media Freedom Act – to be legally and functionally independent from the Commission and able to act independently from it. MEPs also push for an independent “expert group”, representing the media sector and civil society, to advise this new Board.

“We must not turn a blind eye to the worrying state of press freedom worldwide and in Europe,” rapporteur Sabine Verheyen (EPP) said. “Media is not just any business. Beyond its economic dimension, it contributes to education, cultural development and inclusivity in society, protecting fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and access to information. With this bill, we reach an important legislative milestone to safeguard the diversity and freedom of our media landscape and our journalists and protect our democracies.”

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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