European media could be subject to new rules that aim to protect journalism from state influence and snooping, according to a draft European Union law seen by POLITICO.
The European Media Freedom Act, which is scheduled to be released this week, could give Brussels new tools to strengthen safeguards against state control of public and commercial media through political nominations on oversight boards and covert funding through advertisement.
Under the planned new rules, media organizations would have to declare who owns them, either directly or indirectly, and state who their shareholders are.
Such clarity is “crucial” for readers and viewers to identify and understand potential conflicts of interest so they can come to well-informed opinions, officials said in the draft. This is a prerequisite “to actively participate in a democracy.”
The bill is the European Commission’s response to growing threats to media freedom across Europe. As well as Hungary, Poland has ramped up efforts to control the media amid battles with Brussels over political attempts to undermine the rule of law.
Several EU countries currently lack national rules to protect journalists from surveillance and media from state control, the Commission’s draft said.
The new rules could give lawyers across Europe a much stronger arsenal for holding EU governments accountable, it said. This addresses calls from press freedom and journalists’ associations.
The new law would also provide new tools to target EU governments’ snooping on journalists, an area where the Commission is now largely powerless.
The rules would stop governments from hacking phones and devices used by journalists and their families to track them. However, it would still leave national capitals with the possibility of using such tools if they can cite national security or a serious crime investigation.
Beyond domestic political meddling, the Commission wants to restrict foreign propaganda and disinformation. The issue came to the fore when the EU scrambled to stem a tide of disinformation from Kremlin-backed outlets like RT and Sputnik at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There is still a question of how to handle foreign organizations funded by the Chinese or Turkish governments that may also seek to influence the European debate.
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