The Culture and Education Committee amended the Media Freedom Act to make sure it applies to all media content and protects editorial decisions from political interference.
In their draft position on the European Media Freedom Act, adopted on Thursday by 24 votes in favour, 3 against and 4 abstentions, MEPs want to ensure that the new rules oblige member states to ensure plurality and protect media independence from governmental, political, economic or private interests.
They amended the draft law so that transparency requirements apply to all media content, not just to news and current affairs as proposed by the Commission.
Protecting journalists’ work
In the adopted text, the committee bans all forms of interference and pressure on media, including forcing journalists to disclose their sources, accessing encrypted content on their devices and using spyware against them.
To protect media more robustly, MEPs also established that the use of spyware may only be justified on a case-by-case basis and if ordered by an independent judicial authority to investigate a serious crime, such as terrorism or human trafficking.
MEPs also propose to cap public advertising allocated to a single media provider, online platform or a search engine to 15% of the total advertising budget allocated by that authority in a given EU country.
Ownership transparency obligations
To assess media independence, MEPs want to oblige outlets to publish information on who owns them and on whoever benefits from it, directly or indirectly. They also want them to report on state advertising and state financial support, including when they receive public funds from non-EU countries.
MEPs also want to oblige media service providers to report on any potential conflict of interest and on any attempts of interference in editorial decisions.
Provisions against arbitrary decisions by big platforms
To ensure that EU media are protected from very large online platforms arbitrarily deleting or restricting their content, MEPs introduced a self-declaration and verification procedure to help distinguish independent media from rogue ones. They also propose a 24-hour negotiation window, with the involvement of national regulators, before a big online platform can proceed with suspending or restricting content.
Member states should finance public service media via multiannual budgets to prevent political interference and ensure budgetary predictability, MEPs say. MEPs also amended the rules on audience measurement systems in order to make them fairer and more transparent.
More independent EU media body
MEPs want the European Board for Media Services (the Board) – a new EU body to be set up by the act – to be legally and functionally independent from the Commission and able to act on its own, not only at the Commission’s request. Finally, they want an independent “expert group”, representing the views of the media sector and including civil society, to feed into the work of the Board.
“The European Media Freedom Act aims to establish greater diversity, freedom, and editorial independence for European media outlets. Media freedom is seriously under threat in several EU countries – this is why the new law needs to pack a punch, not just pay lip service. We strengthened the Commission’s proposal to significantly safeguard media independence and protect journalists while at the same time not weakening our unique cultural differences”, said the rapporteur Sabine Verheyen (EPP, DE) after the vote.
The adopted text needs to be confirmed by the full Parliament, with a vote scheduled during the 2-5 October plenary, before MEPs can commence discussions with the Council on the final shape of the law.