EU strikes deal on media freedom act with limits on spying on reports

The EU Council and MEPs have struck a deal for new rules intended to safeguard media freedom, media pluralism and editorial independence in the EU

European Commissioner Thierry Breton
European Commissioner Thierry Breton

The EU Council and MEPs have struck a deal for new rules intended to safeguard media freedom, media pluralism and editorial independence in the EU.

The rules have been criticised because France has demanded that it retains wide powers on operations on journalists using spyware and other methods to identify and access their sources.

Negotiators of the European Parliament, the EU Council representing national governments, and the European Commission on Friday cleared the last hurdle: an agreement on provisions in the law limiting how governments conduct such surveillance.

Malta called to withdraw support for EU law that allows spying on journalists

The European Commission originally introduced an exemption for the investigation of certain crimes like terrorism and human trafficking, EU capitals, led by France, pushed for a bigger carve-out in the name of national security, while lawmakers advocated for stronger safeguards. Negotiators settled on new language saying the article should respect the countries' responsibilities, as laid down in the treaties.

The provisional agreement must 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 new law will introduce requirements for media to provide transparency over ownership and funding, and it will force national governments to set up an oversight system that guarantees editorial freedom, including for public media.

It also requires checks on mergers and sets up a new European watchdog to oversee it all.

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.

The proposed regulation responds to rising concerns in the EU about the politicisation of the media and the lack of transparency of media ownership and of allocation of state advertising funds to media service providers.

It seeks to put in place safeguards 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.

An independent European board for media sevices 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.

The proposed law clarifies the responsibility of the member states to guarantee the plurality, independence and proper functioning of public media providers operating within their borders; sets out the obligation for member states to guarantee the effective protection of journalists and media providers in the exercise of their professional activity;

Prohibits member states from using coercive measures to obtain information about journalists’ sources or confidential communications except in specified cases; 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.

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