Media analysts, outlets, and NGOs have largely welcomed legislation to restrict political intervention in the media and takeovers by a few large media conglomerates, however, some are wondering why it took Brussels so long and are concerned about the law’s reach and enforcement.
Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner for the internal market, assured at the European News Media Forum on November 29 that the purpose of passing the Media Freedom Act would be to maintain the integrity and independence of the EU media market. For more than a decade, European media has faced a double threat. On the one hand, illiberal governments, particularly in Central and Southeast Europe, are becoming adept in their efforts to defenestrate independent media, while on the other, tech behemoths are eating into traditional media’s business.
As a result, media pluralism has deteriorated, violence and intimidation against journalists has increased, and journalists have been unable to communicate accurate information to the public.
The European Union’s mechanisms for safeguarding fundamental freedoms have yet to lessen Viktor Orban’s grip on Hungary’s media or put an end to the severe measures being implemented in other Central European countries.
The new Media Freedom Act, set to be introduced in the autumn of 2022, is intended to address this. It is hoped that the legislation will build on the updated Audiovisual Media Services Directive and complement the Digital Services Act package, which lays out a new deal for online journalism and media.
There are indicators that the EU’s regulatory machinery is being fine-tuned to create a more connected framework, and that the Media Freedom Act is part of a well-thought-out strategy to strengthen democracy.
One of the most significant aspects of the new media policy should be to support the income of existing independent media outlets that are stuck between authoritarian power and tech giants.
This refers to procedures that prevent governments from diverting taxpayer money to favored channels while denying it to independent outlets in the form of state advertising spending. Poland and Hungary are two of the more egregious instances.
European MPs and media analysts think that the Media Freedom Act requires a structural strategy, backed by the entire arsenal of EU instruments at its disposal, to develop a new ownership, competition, and merger framework for Europe’s media sector.
The European Commission launched two particular projects to address immediate issues, which have been widely praised.
The European Commission has set aside 75 million euros from the Creative Europe initiative until 2027 to support media freedom and pluralism projects, as well as launching the European Newsroom project, which will bring together 16 news organizations from across Europe, including some from the Balkans, to provide broader coverage of EU issues.
The introduction of a multilingual news agency hub was hailed as a positive step toward more balanced reporting on EU-related problems. Although some believe the EU’s existing funding system needs to be substantially revamped, the additional financial support for media freedom and pluralism projects proposed by the EU will be beneficial. They say that most funding goes to larger, more powerful media channels, while smaller, more diverse media outlets go unfunded.