The executive branch of the European Union unveiled plans on Friday for new laws that they believe will help protect media freedom and independence in the 27-nation bloc at a time of growing concern over the dangers of political influence in different member countries.
Spurred on by allegations of state spying on journalists, using political pressure on the media and placing advertisements to sell influence, the European Commission said the EU needs a European law on the freedom of average.
“We see a lot of worrying media trends in Europe, and it’s not just one or two countries,” Vera Jourova, vice president of the European Commission, told reporters in Brussels. You said that the bill is necessary “for the times we live in, not for the times we would like to live”.
The commission has criticized the governments of Hungary, Poland and Slovenia in recent years for attempting to pressure their national media. But EU officials say they see the risk of political influence in more than 20 member countries.
“We must establish clear principles: no journalist should be spied on because of his work. No public media should be turned into a propaganda channel, “said Jourova.
The main goal of the new law is to protect the media from governments trying to determine what they can publish or broadcast and to prevent countries from spying on media operators.
The legislation also aims to ensure stable funding of public service media and to make media ownership more transparent.
The proposal will only enter into force after it has been discussed and approved by EU member states and the European Parliament.
The core of the legislation would create an independent body, composed of national media authorities, to issue opinions on national measures and decisions affecting media markets and media market ownership. But the opinions of the European Board for Media Services would not be binding on national authorities.
Jourova rejected suggestions that the board would be accountable to the European Commission or act as a supervisory body that monitors what journalists and editors are doing.
“We will not regulate the media themselves, but the space for the media,” he said.
The act would ban the use of spyware against journalists and their families, with exceptions only for investigating crimes such as terrorism, child abuse or murder. Journalists would be entitled to judicial protection and countries would set up an independent authority to handle complaints.
The allocation of state advertising to the media would also be made more transparent. Officials say 21 countries are at medium to high risk of abusing ad revenue to influence publishers and journalists.
The plan is the Commission’s second recent foray into the media world. On 6 September it launched a consortium of 18 European news agencies to “carry out independent reports on EU affairs”. The European editorial team benefits from around 1.8 million euros (1.8 million dollars) of EU funding.