On 20 March 2022, ARTICLE 19 submitted its response to the European Commission’s Public Consultation for the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), legislation which aims to ensure that media freedom and pluralism are the pillars of democracy in the EU. ARTICLE 19 welcomes the initiative, as we have long warned that the EU law should consider media not simply as economic actors, but recognise independent journalism as a public good that needs protecting in its own right. Our submission makes several recommendations for how the EMFA should achieve these goals and improve the protection of the freedom of the media in the EU and beyond.
The European Commission has stated that recent developments in EU countries have negatively impacted media freedom and freedom of expression. The EMFA proposal is a response to these concerns. It aims to increase transparency, independence and accountability of actions affecting media markets, freedom and pluralism within the EU. The act would tackle issues such as disinformation, lack of media pluralism safeguards both online and offline, as well as interference in editorial decisions of the media.
ARTICLE 19 recognises that a free, independent and pluralistic media landscape is key in any democratic society. Without a healthy media environment, freedom of expression cannot be guaranteed. Hence, ARTICLE 19 supports several of the European Commission’s proposals such as the establishment of a pan-European registry to increase the transparency of media market transactions and the establishment of an EU-wide monitoring of state advertising allocated by the Member States.
However, we believe that more can be done to protect and promote media freedom. In our submission, we make the following recommendations:
- The scope of the EMFA must not be limited to the economic dimension of the internal market. If the EMFA is to achieve its goals, it should recognise that the social and political dimensions of the media market are of fundamental importance. Focusing solely on the economic aspects of media pluralism and diversity will not be able to effectively protect them.
- Harmonised measures on guaranteeing media independence and media pluralism are key to building robust media freedom standards throughout the EU. These harmonised standards should include ownership and authorisation requirements and procedures, audience measurement methodologies as well as the guarantee of independent public service media. We particularly recommend the creation of impact assessments of media market transactions on media pluralism. As we highlighted in our submission in the Orlen/Polska merger case, the concentration of media ownership can cause serious risk to media pluralism.
- To achieve sufficient diversity of exposure, large social media platforms should be required to unbundle hosting and content curation activities. This would allow lower barriers to entry to the market and put the choice back into the users’ hands. ARTICLE 19’s policy paper “Taming Big Tech: Protecting freedom of expression through the unbundling of services, open markets, competition, and users’ empowerment” outlines how unbundling can better protect freedom of expression, diversity and pluralism in digital markets.
- Establishing EU-wide guidance for direct and indirect State support to the media sector would help end the fragmentation of national rules that undermine the efficiency of the European internal media market.
- The development of an EU fund for media pluralism to finance original and independent journalistic programs and initiatives would further contribute to the sustainability of the media sector.
Finally, the EMFA is not the only legislative proposal that touches upon freedom of expression and media freedom issues. Other existing, or in the making, legislative instruments such as the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act will also shape the future of human rights in the EU. We believe that coordination between all these regulatory instruments will be key to ensuring the best possible environment for the exercise of freedom of expression and protection of human rights in the EU and beyond.