Proposed European Media Freedom Act adopts the approach of the New Deal for Journalism
The proposed European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) that was unveiled today represents an important step forward for media freedom and for the preservation of democracy and the rule of law throughout the European Union. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails this initiative, which incorporates many of its recommendations, and will work to improve it.
“This proposed European legislation on media freedom must be welcomed and defended because it reflects the European Commission's will to preserve the Union’s values against powerful private-sector corporations, authoritarian states and external manipulation. We appreciate the adoption of many of the recommendations submitted by RSF, in particular, the approach of the New Deal for Journalism proposed by the Forum on Information and Democracy. However, this proposed legislation is still wanting in certain areas and will have to be improved.
Unveiled by European Commission vice-president Vera Jourova and internal market commissioner Thierry Breton, the EMFA aims to establish a common basis of media freedom safeguards that are applicable throughout the EU. This is very welcome at a time when journalism and media are under attack in a growing number of EU member states and in the face of unfair competition from online platforms and burgeoning disinformation.
The proposed legislation incorporates a number of the proposals made by RSF during its discussions with European institutions in recent months, including the principles of the International Partnership for Information and Democracy that was initiated by RSF. It de facto recognises the right to reliable information: citizens have the right to receive pluralistic and independent information “for the benefit of the public debate.” And it establishes the necessary safeguards for the exercise of this right – protection for the editorial independence, independence of public service media, and even protection for the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and a ban on the use of spyware against journalists.
Many of the recommendations made in the Forum for Information and Democracy’s reports have also been accepted, in particular those in the report on media sustainability entitled A New Deal for Journalism – such as the importance of taking account of the impact of media market transactions on pluralism and editorial independence, regulating state advertising and ensuring media ownership transparency. The explicit reference, in the EMFA’s recitals, to the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI) as a self-regulatory standard allowing media to identify themselves as such to online platforms, and thus benefit from specific protection against platform moderation operations, is an important step forward.
All these provisions need to be developed and strengthened, in particular, the criteria for defining media that will be able to benefit from safeguards against online content moderation, which are not satisfactory in their current form. If self-declaration as a news outlet suffices to enjoy protection, then this mechanism risks hampering the efforts that platforms are expected to undertake to combat disinformation. The JTI should be recognised as the relevant criterion.
Another aspect of the EMFA that needs further development is the protection of the European information space against external manipulation and influence. The EMFA allows coordinated action against media outside the EU that undermine or threaten public security and defence, but does not provide an appropriate and legitimate legal framework for this. RSF's proposal for a reciprocity mechanism would satisfy this need.