The European Union’s executive branch has unveiled plans for new laws that it said would help protect media freedom and independence in the 27-nation bloc at a time of mounting concern about the dangers of political influence in several member countries.
Spurred into action allegations of state spying on reporters, the use of political pressure on news outlets and the placing of advertising to peddle influence, the European Commission said the EU needs a European Media Freedom Act.
“We see a lot of worrying trends regarding media in Europe, and it’s not only a matter of one or two countries,” European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova told reporters in Brussels. She said the proposed legislation is needed “for the times we live in, not for the times we would like to live in.”
The commission has criticized the governments of Hungary, Poland and Slovenia in recent years for trying to pressure their national media. But EU officials say they see the risk of political influence in more than 20 member countries.
“We need to establish clear principles: No journalist should be spied on because of their job. No public media should be turned into propaganda channel,” Jourova said.
The main thrust of the new act is to protect media outlets from governments attempting to determine what they can publish or broadcast, and to prevent countries from spying on media workers.
The legislation also aims to ensure stable funding of public service media and to make media ownership more transparent.
The proposal would only take effect once it has been debated and endorsed by EU member countries and the European Parliament.
The centerpiece of the legislation would create an independent body, made up 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 answerable to the European Commission or serve as an oversight body that itself keeps tabs on what reporters and editors are doing.
“We are not going to regulate the media themselves, but the space for media,” she said.
The act would ban the use of spyware against journalists and their families, with exceptions only for investigations of crimes such as terrorism, child abuse or murder. Journalists would have the right to judicial protection, and countries would set up an independent authority to handle complaints.
The allocation of state advertising to media would also be made more transparent. Officials say that 21 countries are at medium to high risk of misusing advertising revenue to influence editors and journalists.
The plan is the commission’s second recent foray into the media world. On Sept. 6, it launched a consortium of 18 European news agencies to “carry out independent reporting on EU affairs.” The European Newsroom benefits from around 1.8 million euros ($1.8 million) in EU funding.