June 8. 2023. 10:27

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EU Council advances on source protection, fund transparency in media law

A new compromise text on the European Media Freedom Act from the Swedish EU Council Presidency proposes changes to areas including the threshold of application for transparency rules on the allocation of public funds and the provisions covering spyware and the protection of sources.

The new media law is meant to increase transparency in media ownership and strengthen the sector’s pluralism. The compromise text, dated 24 May and seen by EURACTIV, is set to be discussed at the Audiovisual and Media Working Party on 30 May.

The legislation has drawn controversy on several points so far, however, with many civil society groups arguing that it does not go far enough and national governments defending their control over media regulation – traditionally a member state competence – by complaining that it goes too far.

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.

Sources and spyware

Amongst the changes proposed in Stockholm’s compromise text is an amendment of the wording surrounding those who are protected in the provisions covering journalistic sources and spyware.

The proposal includes measures to prevent member states from obliging journalists to reveal their sources or from using spyware against media service providers.

The Commission’s original proposal stated that these sections applied to media service providers and “their family members, or their employees or their family members”.

In an expansion of this, however, in the Council’s new text, these provisions will now apply to media service providers or their “editorial staff or any persons who, because of their regular relationship with a media service provider or its editorial staff, may have information that could identify journalistic sources”.

Those who fall into these categories should also be those for whom EU countries must ensure the right to effective judicial protection where breaches occur.

Under a new point in this article, and in a nod to a much broader debate around the justification of the use of spyware, Stockholm also clarified that the rules here are without prejudice to member states’ responsibility for safeguarding national security.

Media Freedom Act falls short on spyware, says EU data watchdog

The European Media Freedom Act proposal is insufficient in protecting journalists from spyware and surveillance, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) warned in an opinion that also calls for the regulation’s scope to be redefined.

Public funds

The text also proposes a change in the article covering the allocation of public funds for state advertising and purchases.

The Commission’s original proposal included a specification that rules surrounding the annual provision of information about the state of their advertising expenditure should only apply to certain bodies, including “local governments of territorial entities of more than one million inhabitants”.

This provision, which the Council has since removed, was criticised as arbitrary by some stakeholders, who noted that this would exempt some prominent European cities.

The new compromise text, however, specifies that member states may “exempt subnational governments of territorial entities of less than 100,000 inhabitants,” as well as any entities directly or indirectly controlled by them, from the relevant reporting obligations.

Monitoring and review

When it comes to monitoring the internal market for media services, the text also suggests that the Commission, in consultation with the Board, define methodological safeguards to ensure the objectivity and selection criteria of the monitoring alongside the key performance indicators it was already tasked with devising.

The new text also specifies that the overview and future assessment of the market’s functioning should include attention to the impact of online platforms.

Read more with EURACTIV

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