European Federation of Journalists

EMFA: EU Member States show dangerous disregard for media freedom principles

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EU governments want to authorise the spying of journalists and their sources on vague grounds of “national security”. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) strongly rejects the position of the EU Council on the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) and denounces a blow to media freedom, arguing that such legislation would put journalists and their sources even more at risk.

The Council reached today, 21 June 2023, an agreement on the much-needed European Media Freedom Act, a legislation proposed by the European Commission on 16 September 2022 with the intention to introduce safeguards against political interference, media concentration, and to protect journalists and their sources against surveillance. Since then, the EFJ has been advocating for strong and effective regulation to respond to the numerous threats posed to media freedom in the EU.

However, earlier this month, France introduced a new exception to the general ban on deploying spyware against journalists. It reads that the provisions on effective protection of journalistic sources “is without prejudice to the Member States’ responsibility for safeguarding national security”.

The EFJ had argued that such an exception would turn in effect the protections originally afforded into empty shells. It also neglects the important case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which makes it clear that the mere purpose of safeguarding national security cannot render EU law inapplicable and does not exempt Member States from their obligations to comply with the rule of law.

The EFJ strongly opposes this exception, which goes against the very purpose of the legislation and would open the door to all kinds of abuse:

“We are disturbed about the dangerous loopholes in the Council’s position, which shows a disregard for media freedom principles. The national security exception in article 4 on the protection of sources and protection from surveillance technology is a blow to media freedom. It would put journalists even more at risk and creates in addition a chilling effect on whistleblowers and other sources. We know too well how the defense of national security is misused to justify media freedom violations. This EMFA was supposed to generate trust. The Member States are generating mistrust,” reacted EFJ Director Renate Schroeder.

The EFJ relies on the European Parliament to be in a position to weigh in during the trilogue negotiations and save what is at stake: journalists’ trust in EU institutions and in a European Media Freedom Act worthy of the name.