European Federation of Journalists

EMFA: EFJ applauds European Parliament’s vote for strengthened regulation, deplores conditional use of spyware

Ramona Strugariu, member of the LIBE Committee and rapporteur of article 4 of the EMFA. Credits: © European Union 2023 - Source: EP

At the plenary session in Strasbourg, the European Parliament (EP) adopted yesterday, with an overwhelming majority, (448 votes in favour, 102 votes against and 75 abstentions) its position on the European Media Freedom Act. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) appreciates the European Parliament’s continued commitment to preserving and promoting media freedom in an ever more hostile and fragile media environment. Many essential changes have been made since the legislative process began, but concerns about spying on journalists remain.

“After a year of advocacy in close cooperation with other media freedom, civil society and digital rights organisations, we are happy to have achieved so much progress on so many urgent issues, says Renate Schroeder, EFJ Director who has been following the file closely. Unfortunately, the adopted text does not include a complete ban on the use of spyware against journalists, for which we all intensively fought – including and foremost the European Digital Rights (EDRi) but also publishers and broadcasters’ organisation, the European Trade Union Confederation and our affiliates and their journalists’ members”.

Though Members of the European Parliament have improved the Commission text by getting it in line with Council of Europe standards, they argue that the use of spyware may only be justified as a ‘last resort’ measure, on a case-by-case basis, and if ordered by an independent judicial authority to investigate a serious crime, such as terrorism or human trafficking. The text says that it cannot result in access to journalistic sources, but the EFJ doubts this with ever more intrusive digital technology being used.

The EFJ welcomes great progress being made, among other, regarding:

    • Article 5 on public service media. It contains robust safeguards that should strengthen PSM independence and autonomy, including adequate, stable and predictable funding and that also build respect for and freedom of editorial independence. For example, “3a. Member States shall appoint an independent authority or establish independent procedures for determining the financial needs appropriate for public service media providers in accordance with paragraph 3. Member States shall ensure that independent judicial review is guaranteed. The procedure for appointing an independent authority as referred to in the first subparagraph or the established procedures referred to therein shall be predictable, transparent, independent, impartial and non-discriminatory and be based on objective and proportionate criteria laid down in advance by national law” is included;
    • Article 6.1-6.3 and Article 24 on transparency of media ownership and state funding with strengthened requirements and the creation of a European database. According to it, “national regulatory authorities or bodies with developing and maintaining dedicated online media ownership databases containing the information listed in Article 6(1), including at regional or local level. The public shall have easy, swift and effective access, free of charge, to such databases.”  
    • Article 6.2 on editorial independence of media service providers;
    • Article 7 on the independence of National Regulatory Authorities;
    • Article 11 on the cooperation with a more independent board and the need to consult outside experts including trade unions and journalists organisations;
    • Articles 8-13: on the independence of the board from the European Commission;
    • Article 17 on a media and journalist’s privilege for media service providers following ethical and self-regulatory mechanisms;
    • Article 21 on the media pluralism test, an assessment of media market concentrations that could have an impact on media pluralism and editorial independence.

“A lot is still at stake and we urge the EP Rapporteurs to stick to its words and wish them, in particular the LIBE Rapporteur responsible for Article 4, Ramona Strugariu (Romania, Renew) reliance and strength. Otherwise, journalists will turn their back from the EU, of that I am convinced, said Maja Sever, EFJ President.

The EFJ, together with its affiliates and its partner organisations, will now advocate for a strengthened Article 4 against the Council position. The Spanish Presidency said that it is eager to find a final position by November.