Fighting misinformation - EU launches public consultation for the European Media Freedom Act

Hogan Lovells

Hogan Lovells

According to the European Commission, freedom of expression (one of the pillars of democracy in Europe) is in jeopardy, as governments and private groups increase pressure on the media.

The Commission is due to enact a draft act aimed at fighting disinformation and supporting media freedom and pluralism. Before starting the legislative process, the Commission wants to collect views and insights from citizens, relevant Member States’ authorities and bodies, academics, media actors (both private and public service media) and umbrella organisations representing any of the interested stakeholders.

The EU is particularly aware of the risks that control over the media’s freedom of speech could pose to European democracies. This has been reflected in the Communication on the European Democracy Action Plan, where one of the EU’s priorities is fighting against all kind of pressures against free journalism, be it from physical attacks and violence (e.g. Recommendation on ensuring the protection, safety and empowerment of journalists) or from economic pressures.

The incoming European Media Freedom Act will target non-violent pressures, in particular, with respect to "instances of public and private interference in the ownership, management or operation of media outlets", "lack of media pluralism safeguards, including online" and "interference in editorial and management decisions of the media, which may lead to biased media coverage, among other issues, can affect investment or market entry decisions".

Key objectives

The EU Commission impact assessment on the European Media Freedom Act, sets out the following key objectives of the initiative:

  • Ensure that media companies can operate in the internal market subject to consistent regulatory standards, including as regards media freedom and pluralism;
  • Ensure that EU citizens have access to a wide and varied media offer both offline and online;
  • Safeguard the editorial independence and independent management of the media, which is a precondition of media freedom and of the integrity of the internal market; and
  • Foster undistorted competition between media companies by ensuring a transparent and fair allocation of state resources.

Main envisaged obligations

Some of the envisaged actions to accomplish these objectives are quite ambitious, such as:

  • Scrutiny of media market transactions;
  • Transparency of media ownership;
  • Transparency of audience measurement; and
  • Independence of public service media, transparency and fair distribution of state advertising.

Besides these actions, there could be further obligations for online environments.One of the issues to be solved is that "online diffusion and amplification techniques may accentuate the problems, ultimately to the detriment of the diversity of the media offer".

Participating in the public consultation

The European Commission has launched a public consultation. The deadline of the feedback period is 21 March 2022.

Next steps

  • Relevant stakeholders should be aware of this initiative and consider participating in the public consultation in order to provide their views.
  • Media companies under the scope of this initiative should keep an eye on their internal procedures/policies in order to check how this initiative could affect them.
  • Other interesting media initiatives should be monitored, such as the upcoming initiative to protect journalists and rights defenders from abusive litigation.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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