The European Media Freedom Act: a unique opportunity to safeguard Europe’s media and democratic values
Media independence, freedom and plurality are under pressure in the EU. The upcoming European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) is a unique opportunity to protect Europe’s media and, by ensuring a diverse information ecosystem, also safeguarding EU democratic values.
As a global human rights organisation advocating for freedom of expression including a free and independent media, EDRi member ARTICLE 19 is urging the European Commission (EC), to propose an ambitious EMFA. ARTICLE 19’s recommendations for the EMFA were reflected in its submission to the EC’s consultation in March, and, together with a number of other human rights and journalists’ organisations, in an open letter to the EC, on the occasion of Europe Day, 9 May.
To start with, in order to fortify EU democracies, it is fundamental that the legislative proposal takes into account not only of the economic dimension of the EU media market, but also of its social and political implications.
Knowing who owns and controls the media is fundamental for democratic resilience. Unlike many types of business, media companies have a special role in informing public debate. Those with close links to States are more vulnerable to political influence including from foreign investors. Transparency of media ownership is therefore a fundamental tool to ensure media accountability and independence. Existing company registers including those provided for under the Audiovisual Media Services and Anti–Money Laundering Directives (AVSMD, AMLD), while helpful, are limited in scope and do not address the specific needs of media ownership. The AVMSD, for example, only provides an option, not a requirement, for media service providers to give information on ownership. The ownership information under AMLD does not include the specific kinds of information that would be helpful in the case of media ownership, such as political allegiance that might sway the editorial line or investments that could highlight possible conflicts of interest.
Pluralism is another essential feature of media markets, which the EMFA must protect. A media plurality test for media mergers would ensure that relevant authorities across Member States take this factor into due account in their assessment. This, in turn, would help to eliminate or minimise distortions in the internal market. The European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA) has the potential to strongly contribute to the establishment and maintenance of an independent and pluralistic media landscape in the EU. Drawing on best practices, a well–equipped ERGA could play a major role in the exchange of best practices, the promotion of common approaches and standards, and consensus building with regards to media policy key concepts and issues. We note however that ERGA’s actions and recommendations should never interfere with content or go in the direction of content regulation. Finally, to help ensure democratic accountability and resilience ERGA should consult all relevant stakeholders.
State advertising can have a significant, distortive impact on competition on media markets. Clear, objective EU standards on the use of state advertising by Member States would help avoid misuses of this instrument, which can be detrimental to the independence and sustainability of media actors.
With the EMFA the EU has the opportunity to complete the ambitious legislative reforms initiated with the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act and the Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) Directive and to set the foundations for a resilient, pluralistic and free media environment across the EU. The EMFA is the missing piece to guarantee a vibrant, innovative, independent and sustainable media environment, for the benefit of economic actors, the media and citizens alike. Let’s not miss this opportunity!
(Contribution by: EDRi member ARTICLE 19)