“It includes many things that states may not like” – Jourová on EU’s upcoming Media Freedom Act

Věra Jourová

The European Commission will present its proposal for the new European Media Freedom Act in September, Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová has told Czech Radio. The legislation proposal will include rules on the management and regulation of public media, as well as greater protections for journalists. Negotiations within the EU on approving the bill will likely take place during the Czech presidency and will not be easy, the commissioner said.

EU Rule of Law Reports over the past two years have warned of media polarisation in some member states, as well as of the lack of transparency in media ownership and in the independence of relevant regulators. The European Commission is therefore preparing new legislation to tackle the problems it has identified in the EU’s media sphere, the vice-president of the EU’s executive branch, Věra Jourová, told Czech Radio’s Brussels team.

Photo illustrative: Khalil Baalbaki,  Czech Radio

“The essential factor, mentioned immediately in article one of the bill, is that neither states nor their organisations should interfere in what is published in the media. This also means that if public money gets into media, whether it be from the EU, individual states or regions, it should be transparent and non-discriminatory.

“It needs to be known what the money is for. In other words, we do not want states, as is already the practice in some cases, to publically finance some media outlets that then write nice articles about them.”

The Czech commissioner said that the proposed legislation will also include rules aimed at boosting the transparency of media ownership in order to avoid monopolies. Furthermore, the bill will include rules aimed at pushing states towards adopting more transparent and objective measures related to nominating and dismissing heads of their respective public media stations, she said. At the same time, the Commission’s proposal will also aim to ensure the stable financing of public media outlets, so that they are able to work independently of governments.

Ms Jourová said that Hungary, a country long criticised by the Commission for its handling of the media, served as the main inspiration for the bill’s rules on media public financing, especially the KESMA media monopoly that the commissioner said receives the largest backing from the Hungarian state. However, Czechia would also likely be impacted if the proposal is passed, as the country was criticised in the EU’s latest Rule of Law Report in regards to the political influence on public media regulatory organs.

Photo illustrative: Nenad Stojkovic,  Flickr,  CC BY 2.0

Ms Jourová added that journalists would also receive greater protection from being pressured to reveal their sources and there would be a complete ban on the use of certain spying technologies for this purpose, if the bill is passed in its proposed form.

“It includes many things that states may not like, because, among other things, the aim of this law is to create the greatest possible distance between politics and the media.”

The European Media Freedom Act is likely to be discussed by member states during the Czech EU presidency, which runs until the end of this year.

Asked about how she sees the ongoing Czech leadership of the Council of the European Union, Ms Jourová said that it comes during a particularly challenging period and that the actions of the Czech government and its diplomats are likely to leave an important note in the country’s history. Hopefully, it will be positive, she added.

Authors: Thomas McEnchroe , Viktor Daněk
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