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EU approves new media freedom law

March 13, 2024

The European Media Freedom Act is aimed at protecting the editorial independence of news outlets across the EU. Press freedom advocates have welcomed the new law.

A man walking past a stand of European newspapers and magazines
The new law is designed to protect journalists and their sourcesImage: Artur Widak/NurPhoto/picture alliance

The European Parliament passed a new law to protect journalists from political interference on Wednesday.

The European Media Freedom Act  is designed to protect editorial independence and journalistic sources across the European Union.

German MEP Sabine Verheyen, who shepherded the law through parliament, pointed to the murder of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and threats to press freedom in Hungary as examples of why such a law is needed.

"The significance of media plurality for a functioning democracy cannot be stressed enough," she said.

What does the Media Freedom Act entail?

The new law prohibits authorities from forcing journalists and editors to disclose their sources, including through detention, surveillance and office raids.

During negotiations, France had pushed for "national security" exceptions. The final law did not include national security carve-outs but does allow authorities to use spyware on journalists if a number of serious violations are identified and only with judicial approval.

The Media Freedom Act also focuses on transparency. It stipulates that board members of public media outlets must be selected through open and fair processes, and they cannot be removed from their positions prematurely unless they no longer meet professional criteria.

States will also not be allowed to show favor with advertising spend, and instead must allocate advertising funds using "public, proportionate and non-discriminatory criteria."

Commissioner talks media freedom in the EU

Meanwhile, all news outlets will have to disclose information about their owners in a national database for each EU member country so that the public can easily know who controls what media outlets and what interests may influence reporting.

The law will also force social media giants like Meta and X to notify media outlets when they intend to delete or restrict their content, and give them 24 hours to respond. Media outlets can also bring the case to an out-or-court arbitration body.

Press freedom advocates hail law

EU commissioner for values and transparency Vera Jourova praised the "historic vote" on Wednesday.

"Independent media are essential to democracies," she said on social media. "It's the duty of democracies to protect them."

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders also welcomed the move.

"This law's adoption marks a major step forward for the right to information within the European Union," the organization's Brussels office chief Julie Majerczak said.

She said it is now up to EU member states to "ambitiously" implement the law.

zc/wmr (AFP, dpa)