Daniel Freund

19. July 2023 Democracy

LIBE Committee adopts far-reaching demands for the protection of journalists

The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE Committee) adopted its position on the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) on Tuesday (18/07). It confirms and strengthens the new rules for the protection of media freedom already contained in the Commission’s proposal, such as those to create more transparency on media ownership and the distribution of state advertising to media service providers, as well as on editorial independence. One of the core elements of the parliamentary position is the far-reaching protection for journalists against governments’ use of spyware.

Daniel Freund, Green negotiator of the Media Freedom Act in the LIBE Committee comments:

The European Union must do everything to ensure that journalists in Europe can do their work without restrictions. Journalists cannot be spied on by governments because some politicians or officials don’t like their reporting or are afraid of critical investigations. In the past, the EU has done too little to protect free media. This was demonstrated by the Pegasus scandal, but also by the murders of journalists in Malta and Slovakia. It is essential for the defence of press freedom that the European Parliament now introduces far-reaching protective measures for journalists. The signal is clear: governments have no business on the phones of journalists!”

An overview of the core elements of the LIBE Committee’s position which are particularly strong from the Green perspective:

  • Far-reaching protection of journalists from surveillance through spyware: After the Pegasus spying scandal, the LIBE Committee now introduces far-reaching restrictions for spying on journalists in its position. Governments should not be able to surveille and spy on journalists, their family or professional network. The exception to this rule for reasons of national security, which is contained in both the Commission and the Council proposal, at least with regard to the use of spyware, has been removed. According to the will of the LIBE Committee, this prohibition could only be circumvented if it concerns investigations into a limited number of particularly serious crimes that have nothing to do with the journalistic activity of the person concerned. Furthermore, for the use of spyware, all less invasive means must be exhausted beforehand. 
  • Ban on media ownership for high-ranking politicians: Media companies have a considerable influence on the public opinion. To prevent high-ranking politicians from abusing this influence in their favour, they should be prohibited from owning a significant share of a media service provider. 
  • Far-reaching powers for the EU Commission against media concentrations: Autocrats like Viktor Orban are successful in bringing the media landscape in the country completely under their control. In Member States like Hungary, for example, the transparency regulations proposed by the Commission in the EMFA would therefore no longer be able to remedy the situation. For this reason, the LIBE Committee is now proposing to grant the Commission far-reaching powers to take action against questionable media concentrations if no appropriate measures are taken in the Member State concerned. This could go as far as breaking up existing concentrations.

What are the next steps?

The Parliament’s Culture and Education (CULT) Committee is leading the Parliament position on this file. However, the LIBE Committee has exclusive competence to set the parliament’s line on some points, including the use of spyware against journalists. The CULT Committee is expected to adopt its position in September 2023. The final parliamentary position must then be confirmed by the plenary in October. The Council of Member States has already adopted its position in June. It is expected that the trilogues, i.e. the negotiations between Commission, Council and Parliament, will begin in autumn. The goal is to get the Regulation on its way before the end of the legislative term. 

The exact text of the negotiated compromises is available here. All compromises were adopted yesterday by the LIBE Committee with a majority.