EU takes aim at ‘press freedom’ with new law

The regulations purport to safeguard against political interference in editorial decisions

The European Commission has unveiled sweeping new regulations it claims will protect independent media against political interference and surveillance. The Media Freedom Act, published on Friday, will ban the use of spyware and other surveillance tactics against journalists and their family members, and forbid the search and seizure of media offices – except “on the grounds of national security,” in which case law enforcement must meet a high burden of proof. 

The legislation will also require media companies to disclose their ownership and any conflicts of interest that might influence their reporting in the name of ensuring “media pluralism” by mandating transparency. The European Magazine Media Association and European Newspaper Publishers’ Association have already taken issue with that part of the law, arguing it impinges on their “freedom to invest and conduct a business.

The law will also form an “independent” European Board for Media Services, which will be populated by “national media authorities” and tasked with advising on regulatory issues, including the allocation of state advertising and concentration of power in the hands of a few media conglomerates. This body is also meant to guard against the intrusion of non-EU media that “present a risk to public security” and ensure global internet platforms comply with supposedly voluntary EU initiatives such as the Code of Practice on Disinformation.

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While the law purports to protect against the “unjustified removal of media content produced according to professional standards,” it includes broad loopholes allowing for the removal of such content in the case of “systematic risks such as disinformation,” a term it avoids defining but which has in recent years been used by Western governments to marginalize and censor dissenting viewpoints.

Earlier this year, the EU outright banned RT and Sputnik in an unprecedented censorship move, citing “systematic disinformation” regarding the conflict in Ukraine and revised its Code of Practice on Disinformation to explicitly target Russia and Russian media. Signatories of this “voluntary” pact include Google, Microsoft, Twitter, TikTok, and Meta. Last year, the bloc also partnered with Pentagon contractor NewsGuard to advance its fight against “disinformation.”

Several European governments have been criticized for interfering in the legitimate practice of journalism in recent months, including Greece, which hacked the phone of a finance journalist, and Germany, which seized the bank account of a journalist and threatened her with three years in prison because of her reporting.

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