Report en Recordings of the Conference on Media Freedom and Pluralism in EU Law (11 Oct 2022, Brussels)

Introduction

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.

Attendees

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:

Inaugural lecture prof. dr. John morijn

On Friday 24 June 2022, prof. dr. John Morijn gave his inaugural lecture on the acceptance of the post of endowed professor of Law and politics in international relations at the University of Groningen Faculty of Law.

The topic of the lecture was the law and politics of protecting liberal democracy. John Morijn first identified the current challenges to liberal democracy in Europe. He then discussed the law and its potential to protect liberal democracy. Lastly, he reflected on the politics necessary to place law in its social context.

John Morijn presented three main arguments:

(i) “The problem of deterioration of liberal democracy in EU Member States and, as a result, political EU institutions themselves, is much deeper and much more urgent than commonly understood. Opponents of liberal democracy in Europe have a clear gameplan. Its defenders do not – at least not yet.”

(ii) “Existing binding norms and procedures offer many more possibilities to protect liberal democracy than currently used. The challenge is to employ only those tools that are effective to confront the specific challenge we face, and to enforce their outcomes more effectively – particularly ECJ judgments.”

(iii) “We need more, not less politics to protect liberal democracy. But we cannot sit back and leave politics to politicians alone. Instead, we need more conscious and coordinated action from all of us, everyone in this room. Lawyers – legal academics, attorneys, legal advisers to governments and EU institutions – and national and EU-level politicians have an additional role and responsibility.”

The full text of the lecture can be found here

Rule of law FAQs – Debunking common myths

A number of politicians in Europe, notably from government parties in Poland and Hungary, are challenging established conceptions around the rule of law – the framework guaranteeing accountable governments and equal citizens’ rights. They pretend that the rule of law is a mere buzzword and claim that it is a political tool used to target them and their political agendas without justification. These claims are packed with myths, lies and half-truths that hinder constructive debates around the rule of law in the EU.

To help politicians, journalists, and any other actors involved in the rule of law debate navigate these muddy waters, Democracy Reporting International (DRI) and Meijers Committee paired up to create the Rule of Law FAQs. These handy cards will help you get your facts straight and be ready to bust the myths that have been built around the rule of law.

The set is available in EnglishGermanFrenchHungarian and Polish. To explore the English version, click on the image below. You can also find all language versions for download at the bottom of this page.

Speaking to Daniel Freund MEP about the Rule of Law FAQs

Daniel Freund MEP (Greens/EFA, Germany) speaks with us about the current debate on the rule of law at the European level, the Rule of Law FAQs and how this new tool may help his work.

Mr Freund MEP, thank you for your interest in the Rule of Law FAQs. Why was it important to you to be part of this initiative?

Daniel Freund MEP: I have been dealing with issues surrounding the rule of law since my election to the European Parliament and also before while working with Transparency International. I had countless very informed and stimulating discussions on the topic but also encountered a lot of half-knowledge and stereotypes. Hence I was very enthusiastic about the project. The FAQs provide concise and clear answers to some of the questions people most frequently get wrong and can help to debunk spurious arguments and smokescreens. They can also serve as a common basis for discussion.

The rule of law debate in the EU is more consequential and high profile than ever before. What is your stance on the current debate overall?

Daniel Freund MEP: I am very glad that the topic has gained significance in the public debate which forces decision-makers to discuss it at the very highest political level, after years and years of sweeping it under the carpet. However, I am worried and saddened by the fact that the European Commission and Member States in the Council are still hesitant to use all tools they have at their disposal and in some cases deliberately continue to delay action, such as the triggering of the rule of law conditionality. A very important point in the current debate which is sometimes overlooked is that every EU Member State agreed to the values enshrined in the EU treaties when joining the Union. Falling behind these standards cannot be justified.

You have received the Rule of Law FAQs from Meijers Committee and DRI. What is – in your opinion – the added value of such a tool?

Daniel Freund MEP: The tool provides decision-makers and journalists but also regular citizens who are interested in the rule of law with facts-based knowledge and arguments. There are many different aspects to the debate. And it can sometimes become difficult to follow it with new judgments of the Court of Justice on the rule of law crisis coming in on an almost daily basis by now. So, it is crucial to have all the key infos collected in one place. Furthermore, the discussion around the rule of law has come to be highly politicized and at times also emotional. The FAQs address a lot of myths, half-truths and unsubstantiated arguments frequently brought up in discussions. By providing politicians, journalists, and citizens with counterarguments and substantiated replies to common claims, the FAQs can contribute to making the whole debate more informed, sober, and objective and reduce prejudice and misinformation. The FAQs give very concrete and detailed information on the state of play in Poland and Hungary while not focusing solely on these countries but also shedding light on criticism directed towards other EU member states such as Germany, Spain, or France, and thereby avoiding allegations of one-sidedness or Western arrogance. They also show very well why the rule of law affects all areas of public, political, and economic life, and is crucial for any state’s democratic functioning.

Would you be able to tell us about a situation from your career as a parliamentarian in which such FAQs would have been useful to you?

Daniel Freund MEP: Every day I receive many comments on social media and by email about the rule of law in the EU. Even journalists are sometimes confused. The FAQs make it very easy for me to provide answers. We already talked about the heated controversy around rule of law topics in the EU.

What is your personal message to the opposed groups in this debate?

Daniel Freund MEP: Dialogue is important, but at the same time, we must ensure that we don’t talk past each other. The Polish and Hungarian governments’ reactions to the recent ECJ decision on the rule of law conditionality, unfortunately, showed again that the dispute no longer concerns the matter at hand. Completely unrelated issues are being floated in order to deflect attention from the actual problems. I would like to see a return to a more objective discussion here, in which both sides recognise and hear each other. Hopefully, the FAQs can help bring the debate back to a more factual and productive level.

Thank you very much for your time.

Documents

Rule of law FAQs – English

Rule of law FAQs – French

Rule of law FAQs – German

Rule of law FAQs – Polish

Rule of law FAQs – Hungarian

VIDEORECORDING FROM OUR SEMINAR ‘The rule of law in the EU: lessons for the future?’ on 5 march 2021

On Friday 5 March, we organised a seminar about the rule of law and invited three amazing speakers to talk about possible lessons for the future and the discussion was led by our member John Morijn. Márta Pardavi (co-chair of the ​Hungarian Helsinki Committee) talked about the situation in Hungary and what she sees as avenues that organisations such as the Meijers Committee can take to tackle this issue efficiently. Anna Wójcik (researcher at the Institute of Legal Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences, co-founder of ​ruleoflaw.pl and coordinator of The Wiktor Osiatyński Archive) talked about the current situation in Poland and what she sees as promising tools and instruments to address and change the current rule of law backsliding in the EU and particularly Poland. Kim Lane Scheppele (Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Princeton University) reflected on what (more) can be done and by whom concerning the democratic backsliding happening in several EU member states. Kim stressed furthermore that we cannot longer speak of ‘backsliding’ but should rather call it a ‘concerted assault on democracy in Poland and Hungary’. After the speeches, the participants had the opportunity to ask questions. We want to thank all speakers and participants for joining us for our first seminar organised within the project ‘Safeguarding the Rule of Law in the EU’.