February 21. 2024. 6:29

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Bid to split Media Freedom Act into directive stalls in Parliament

A bid by German publishers to split the European Media Freedom Act into a directive appears to have stalled amid broader opposition to the watering down of the proposal.

The European Commission’s Media Freedom Act proposal was released in September to bolster media pluralism and independence across Europe. However, it was met with mixed reactions – with German publishers particularly vocal in pushing back against any legislative interference in their sector.

This week, an open letter circulated by German publishers’ organisations called for the regulation to be amended by removing several articles and instead putting them into a directive.

Directives do not directly apply to EU countries’ legal frameworks as they need to be transposed into national law first, giving member states more room for manoeuvre.

The move was supported by the file’s rapporteur in the Parliament, MEP Sabine Verheyen, along with other members of the culture and education (CULT) committee, which leads on the file. However, there is significant opposition from within the European Parliament to the shelving of the proposal.

Both Verheyen and Petra Kammerevert, who work on the file on behalf of the two largest political groups of the European Parliament, have been under scrutiny during their work on the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) for their ties to German media outlets, in particular to public broadcaster Westdeutsche Rundfunk Köln (WDR).

According to public declarations, Verheyen was reimbursed monthly for her work as a deputy member of the outlet’s Broadcasting Council and Kammerevert for her position as a full member of the same body.

Verheyen told EURACTIV that she had left her position on the Council in 2016 but that her capacity as a substitute member has been “representing the interests of citizens”.

Kammerevert remains on the board but said that her duties within the organisation “consist solely of monitoring whether WDR, as a public service broadcaster, is comprehensively fulfilling its mandate for the public, which is also defined in the WDR Act”.

“Please do not confuse this legally provided function again with the role of a supervisory board member in a private company, which is precisely what I am not,” she added. “Such a member would have to represent the company’s interests, and that is precisely what I do not do.”

Commission releases Media Freedom Act proposal, to mixed reactions

The Commission has released its proposal for a Media Freedom Act, to mixed reaction from civil society and media sector organisations.

Pushback from publishers

News publishers, particularly in Germany, have emerged as some of the most vocal opponents of the regulation. The open letter is authored by four such associations, representing titles including those of German publishing giant Axel Springer, Bauer Media Group and newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, amongst others.

In the document, the organisations argue that the new media law risks negative impacts on stable media systems and that a directive would instead be “the most suitable and appropriate instrument for the media sector for regulatory aspects that ensure media pluralism”.

The groups propose that, at the very least, certain provisions of the text be removed and revised into a directive to give states more flexibility in their implementation. The provisions concerned cover the rights of media service recipients, the duties of media service providers and the assessment of media market concentrations.

Renate Schroeder, Director of the European Federation of Journalists, told EURACTIV that the letters’ suggestions would “[weaken] important provisions such as Article 6 on media ownership transparency and measures to guarantee editorial independence, so crucial in today’s increased captured media market”.

“The draft regulation would by no means threaten any well-functioning media systems or intrude in local cultural traditions”, she said, adding: “What are our German and other media stakeholders afraid of? To gain trust, we need more transparency and ethical charters that protect journalists from undue interference.”

The suggested split, shadow rapporteur on the file for the socialists, Petra Kammerevert told EURACTIV, is “solely a matter of eliminating the doubts that have been raised several times in previous hearings about the legality of the legal basis proposed by the Commission and the proposed legal remedy (regulation), without jeopardizing the entire legislative project, because we all indisputably want a European Media Freedom Act.”

“The proposed split should be a viable solution to the conflict that inevitably arises with the subsidiary competence of the member states,” she said, adding, “I take note of the fact that the majority currently does not want such a solution.”

Rapporteur Verheyen of the right-wing European People’s Party group told EURACTIV that she had officially proposed such a move during a recent stakeholder meeting on the text and “has been openly thinking about options how to deal with the doubts about the EU-competence on this file and one of those options was a split”.