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This World Press Freedom Day, the EMFA could be a game changer

03 May 2024
This World Press Freedom Day, the EMFA could be a game changer

On World Press Freedom Day, and in the shadow of the Slovak Television and Radio Act, among other deeply worrying developments that threaten media freedom in Europe, the EBU’s Legal and Policy Director, Richard Burnley explains why the EU’s Media Freedom Act could be a game changer to protect media freedom and pluralism in Europe.

The European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) is the most significant media legislation in decades. It contains many “firsts” for the EU, including an EU-wide definition of “media service”. For the first time, it extends EU rules to radio and press publications, as well as introduces new rules for the protection of editorial freedom and journalistic sources. It is a sea-change in the EU’s approach to media pluralism.

Take, for example, the new provisions on public service media (PSM). Independent, regulated and well-funded PSM play a vital role in society by providing pluralistic and objective content and information to citizens. In doing so, PSM promote and protect media freedom and pluralism andit has been shown that independent PSM correlate with strong democracy. The EMFA not only recognises this role, but actively and directly promotes it. Each EU Member State retains the final say in how to organize and fund PSM nationally. However, this is now supplemented by basic safeguards to ensure that PSM is fully independent of politics and commercial interests, based on existing Council of Europe standards. The EMFA also obliges Members States to ensure that PSM is stably and adequately funded. In this way, PSM’s contribution to democracy, media freedom and pluralism in Europe is underpinned and secured.

Consider also the EMFA’s provisions regarding EU merger control. Mergers fall within the scope of the EU Merger Regulation are normally assessed exclusively by the EU. But Member States have always had the possibility to apply their own national rules to consider the impact of the merger on national markets on media pluralism. Along with e.g. national security, media pluralism was a strict exception to the exclusive competence of the EU, even though it was rarely used in practice. The EMFA marks a shift. Member States will now be obliged to assess media mergers having a significant impact on media pluralism and editorial independence according to a set of basic criteria. A new EU body (European Board for Media Services) may issue non-binding opinions on those decisions.

Of course, the effectiveness of the EMFA depends on proper and consistent implementation of the new rules across the EU. In addition, the EU will need to continue to respect the freedom of Member States to adapt the rules to their own markets and national specificities. But what is clear is that with the EMFA the EU has moved towards a much more active role in promoting the basic principles of media freedom and pluralism which lie at the root of democratic society.

Relevant links and documents


Richard Burnley

Legal & Policy Director