The European Commission has adopted rules to help protect media freedom and independence across the 27-nation bloc at a time of mounting concern about the dangers of political influence in several member countries.
Spurred into action following allegations of state spying on reporters, of political pressure on news outlets and the dishonest use of advertising budgets, the European Commission says that the EU needs a European Media Freedom Act.
European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova says: “We see a lot of worrying trends regarding media in Europe, and it’s not only a matter of one or two countries”.
She added the proposed legislation is needed “for the times we live in, not for the times we would like to live in.”
Risk of political influence on the rise
The commission has openly criticised the governments of Hungary, Poland and Slovenia in recent years for trying to pressure their national media.
EU officials say they have identified risks of political influence in more than 20 member countries.
“We need to establish clear principles: no journalist should be spied on because of their job. No public media should be turned into a propaganda channel,” Jourova told reporters in Brussels.
The main thrust of the new act is to protect media outlets from governments attempting to determine what the outlets can publish or broadcast, and to prevent the authorities from spying on media workers.
The legislation also aims to ensure stable funding of public service media and to make media ownership more transparent.
The proposal would only take effect once it has been debated and endorsed by EU member countries and the European Parliament.
Creation of European Board for Media Services
The centerpiece of the legislation would create an independent body, made up of national media authorities, to issue opinions on national measures and decisions affecting media markets and media market ownership.
However the opinions of the European Board for Media Services would not be binding on national authorities.
Jourova has rejected suggestions that the board should be answerable to the European Commission or serve as an oversight body to keep tabs on what reporters and editors are doing.
The act would ban the use of spyware against journalists and their families, with exceptions only for investigations of crimes such as terrorism, child abuse or murder.
Journalists would have the right to judicial protection, and countries would set up an independent authority to handle complaints.
The plan is the commission’s second recent foray into the media world.
On 6 September, it launched a consortium of 18 European news agencies to “carry out independent reporting on EU affairs.”
The European Newsroom benefits from around €1.8 million euros in EU funding.