European Media Freedom Act Incoming

LS
Lewis Silkin

Contributor

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The European Commission expressed concerns about the independence of the media in some member states. It identified worrying trends, including increased interference...
European Union Media, Telecoms, IT, Entertainment
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The European Commission expressed concerns about the independence of the media in some member states. It identified worrying trends, including increased interference in editorial decisions and challenges in providing quality media services. There were also barriers to cross-border operation and a lack of transparency in certain areas. As a result, in September 2022, the Commission proposed the European Media Freedom Act (the 'Act').

What is the European Media Freedom Act?

In summary, the Act aims to better protect editorial independence, media pluralism, ensure transparency and fairness and facilitate better cooperation of media authorities through a new European Media Board.

It includes safeguards intended to help journalists perform their job freely and safely. It also aims to help both public and private media organisations operate more easily across borders in the EU internal market, without undue pressure and in the context of the digital transformation of the media space.

The Act also builds on existing EU legislation, including the Audio-Visual Services Directive, Platform to Business Regulation, Digital Services Act, and Digital Markets Act, as well as the new Code of Practice on Disinformation.

It is part of the EU's efforts to promote democratic participation, addressing disinformation and supporting media freedom and pluralism.

What does the new Act do?

The Act aims to:

  • Protect editorial independence by requiring member states to respect the editorial freedom of media service providers, while improving the protection of journalistic sources, and preventing the use of spyware
  • Ensure the independent functioning of public service media, including by guaranteeing adequate, sustainable and predictable financial resources and fostering transparency in appointing the head or members of public service media management boards
  • Guarantee the transparency of media ownership through the disclosure of targeted information requirements (for example, legal names, contact details, ownership)
  • Prevent very large online platforms, such as Facebook or Instagram, from arbitrarily restricting or deleting independent media content. Platforms will first have to distinguish independent media from non-independent sources. Media would be notified when the platform intends to delete or restrict their content and have 24 hours to respond. Only after the reply (or in the absence of it) may the platform delete or restrict the content if it still does not comply with its rules
  • Introduce a right to customise the media offer on devices and interfaces, such as connected TVs, enabling users to change the default settings to reflect their own preferences
  • Ensure member states assess the impact of key media market concentrations on media pluralism and editorial independence through media pluralism tests
  • Ensure more transparent audience measurement methodology for media service providers and advertisers, to limit the risk of inflated or biased audience data; and
  • Establish requirements for the allocation of state advertising to media service providers and online platforms, to ensure transparency and non-discrimination.

The Act also provides for a new independent European Board for Media Services to be set up, which would replace the existing European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services. It will be comprised of national media authorities or bodies and be assisted by a Commission secretariat. Its aims will be to promote the effective and consistent application of the EU media law framework by issuing opinions on the impact of media market concentrations likely to affect the functioning of the internal market for media services, as well as supporting the Commission in preparing guidelines on media regulatory matters. The Board will also coordinate measures regarding non-EU media that present a risk to public security, and it will organise a structured dialogue between Very Large Online Platforms, the media and other interested parties.

What happens next?

Once the Act has been officially adopted and published in the Official Journal of the EU, it will be binding in its entirety, and directly applicable in all member states 15 months later. However, some specific provisions will start to apply at different times:

  • After 12 months for the provisions on regulatory cooperation between media regulators; and
  • After 36 months regarding the customisation right.

The Act has been adopted by the Council of the EU, so publication in the Official Journal is due in mid April 2024.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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