The Meijers Committee organized a Conference on Media Freedom and Pluralism in EU law on 11 October 2022 in Brussels, as a response to the brand new proposal for the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) and based on our recent report on media pluralism.
To generate a discussion, the Conference contained two panels, focusing on the extent to which the existing avenues for EU legal action provide sufficient protection to media freedom and pluralism in the Member States, and whether the recently proposed European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) has the potential to cater to the identified issues. Our distinguished panelists were Ramona Strugariu (MEP RENEW), Prof. Elda Brogi (EUI), Maria Luisa Stasi (ARTICLE 19), Maciej Styczen (European Commission, DG CNECT), Prof. Tarlach McGonagle (University of Amsterdam; Leiden), and Oliver Money-Kyrle (International Press Institute).
First panel: Existing legal instruments
The first panel discussed what the EU has been doing to protect media freedom and pluralism. Both Ramona Strugariu and Elda Brogi noted there are several constitutional mentions of media freedom in the EU legal framework. They also pointed to several non-binding recommendations by the EC and CoE, and to various monitoring mechanisms, which could be relevant to safeguard media freedom and pluralism.
In general, Strugariu thinks there are too little legal instruments for protection against harassment of journalists and media. She contended that most of the provisions in the new draft act only look at media from market point of view. What should be included is impact on core values of fundamental rights, rule of law and democracy. She concluded by stressing that we should make use of the current political will to push these salient points.
Elda Brogi also welcomed the current political will to have a discussion on media pluralism, which has resulted in the draft act. She stressed the scattered competences for the EU to deal with media freedom and pluralism, but notes ways to move forward using these different legal bases.
The fragmentation in the law governing media is also the starting point for Maria Luisa Stasi. She identified that media often involves a balancing-exercise, but sometimes rules or underlying goals conflict: oftentimes competition goals prevail over media objectives. Stasi pleads to stop thinking in silos. According to her, we should start thinking about how different frameworks can be applied and create synergies to achieve more than one goal at the time. This may be one of the promising aspects of the proposed EMFA.
Second panel: EMFA
The potential of the proposal for the EMFA regulation was central in the second panel. How can it help to safeguard media freedom and pluralism? Maciej Styczen introduced the draft act, stressing that the proposal for the new Act should be seen as a response to the problems in the media sector. Based on Art 114 TFEU, the goal the EMFA is to safeguard the integrity of the internal market for media services. Styczen expected this will ensure legal certainty for media service providers and recipients, enhance quality of media services, and increase the level playing field among media players. He furthermore gave an overview of the key headlines of the proposal, discussing both the draft regulation and the recommendation.
After Styczen, Tarlach McGonagle discussed the EMFA from a human rights perspective. As the draft act is a set of rules is operating pursuant to logic of internal market, McGonagle raised the question whether this logic would allow for the improvement of fundamental rights aspects. He agreed with the other panelists that the media sector is a complex European environment, where information, media, and human rights come together. It is also a shared space, as both the EU and CoE have competences in this field. According to McGonagle, media freedom is about three components: (i) safety and security for all media actors; (ii) pluralism and independence of actors; (iii) quality and ethics informing public debate. McGonagle proposed a solution to the problems faced: to create a favorable environment for media freedom. Like Stasi, McGonagle pleaded for a holistic approach of media which involves multiple actors and objectives.
The final speaker of the second panel, Oliver Money-Kyrle, spoke about the problem of media capture in EU Member States. Money-Kyrle said that the use/abuse of government economic powers to gain control over the States media means in practice that private media is being taken over, the placement of political allies in regulatory bodies, the abuse of state advertising funds, the creation of a hostile economic environment to independent media, the provision of favorable bank loans to closely allied oligarchs, and the introduction of laws to ban broadcasters. The question is whether the new EMFA could provide for some tools to address media capture. Money-Kyrle acknowledged the ambition on the side of the EC, but he also identified significant loopholes, relating to ownership transparency, misuse of state advertising, reception of state contracts, and independence of national regulators.
Over 70 people have attended the hybrid Conference, with different backgrounds ranging from EU and Member States officials to lawyers, academics, media, journalists, and civil society.
Jasper van Berckel Smit
Brussels, 11 October 2022.
Find the recordings of the Conference here: