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Media freedom: 'We see a negative trend in almost all member states’, says Věra Jourová

The European Commission is proposing a Media Freedom Act, a new set of rules that aims to protect media pluralism and independence in member states.

In this edition of Global Conversation, Euronews journalist Sandor Zsiros speaks to Věra Jourová, the European Commission’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency, to find out more about the proposed regulation and the EU’s plans to protect media freedom.

Full interview here

“So we are in the European Parliament’s building in Strasbourg and the European Commission is proposing a new act, the Media Freedom Act. So media freedom is a core value of the European Union. Why do we need separate legislation to save it?”

We need legally binding rules to protect media better in Europe, because we see a negative trend in almost all the member states. We have a pan-European issue of political pressures on media and economic distress. We see a lot of problems in the public media sector. We see not enough transparency when it comes to media ownership and advertising for public money. And we decided to cover the issues by the legally binding rules, by the regulation, and the negotiations now will start.

According to your view, what are the most problematic areas in the media and what are the most problematic countries?

The most problematic area is that we see shrinking space for freedom, for doing the job by the journalists. First of all, we should do more to protect the media against political interference. That’s why we have a very important part of the law, which says that the state should not interfere. The second thing, which includes also the use of spyware, for instance, or pushing the journalists to disclose the sources. This kind of intrusive attacks against the media we see in some countries. We also believe that we should have public service media in all member states, not state media or not party media. And thirdly, I think that we still need to try to achieve some balance between the media and online platforms, because online platforms grab too much power and they are moderating content. And we want the content produced by professional journalists to survive and not to be removed or somehow or pushed out. 

You didn’t mention any specific countries.

Yes. You asked of all the countries, yes. I will not hide. I was frustrated when I was asked many times, also in this house, how will you help media in Hungary? That is KESMA, which is, in our view, which poses too high a concentration of media ownership under one roof, which goes against the pluralism of media. Also, we had to react on KLUB radio and the problem with the licence.  Yes, we addressed it with the infringement [process] based on telecommunication rules. But we saw problems in Poland with the plan of increasing taxation of some media or the problems which TV 24 was facing. And I have to tell you, I am fed up of saying I cannot help and I could not help. Still, I can not help. Because the media do not have any stronger protection than any other actor on the single market. So but we need much more from the media than from, for instance, producers of socks. Nothing against the producers of socks, but for the media, we have a special task. They have to do the proper job to protect democracy. “

So you mentioned several times the concentration of ownership. How is the European Union able to touch this issue when they are not using the competition law?

The competition was short of bringing solutions. I consulted it with my beloved colleague Margrethe Vestager several times, and we saw that the benchmarks for action are too high. And the need to come up with a special set of rules for competition in the media market proved to be necessary. So we are coming with several criteria which will have to be assessed to make a judgement or assessment of whether the concentration means that the pluralism might be decreased. 

And what about using spyware against journalists? We saw that in many countries. And in some countries it’s legal, actually. So how do you save journalists from being targeted with spyware?

We are explicitly mentioning two reasons or two situations when this spyware could be used by the state, not by private bodies, by the state: only when there is a justified case of threat. Some issue regarding national security or when a serious crime is being investigated. Both cases have to be justified and have to be blessed by the court because we are still in the situation when we need to respect the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

So we heard in the speech of President von the Leyen that some foreign powers, foreign autocracies are attacking the European Union from inside with Trojan horses. Do you know who are they?

“Oh, we have a good mapping of who are the Russian trolls on our territory. Who are the allies? Who are the proxies? Sometimes useful idiots. The individual people who are doing it either for money or for some ideological reasons. And what we can do, we cannot silence the people for declaring what they think or sharing their opinions. We have to fight against falsifying the facts. That’s why, in introducing the measures against disinformation and Russian propaganda, we have a combination of some of the, for instance, fact-checking or demonetising of these channels which we know which they are, which spreads that disinformation in Europe. We are under pressure from Russia in the sector of energy, economy and especially for energy, we are used to say that energy is used as a weapon against us by Putin, but also words are used against us. And I think that we must not be naive and we have to do more.”

Watch the interview by clicking on the player above.

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