MEPs warn of decline of media freedom in EU

They insist that more robust legal framework is needed against online hate speech

Photo: EP Magdalena Adamowicz.

On deterioration of media freedom within the EU voiced their concerns MEPs in a resolution adopted on Wednesday. Noting that the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened this deterioration, lawmakers also deplored the violence, harassment and pressure faced by journalists.

They condemned attempts by some Member States' governments to silence critical and independent media and undermine media freedom and pluralism, warning of attempts to indirectly subdue independent media by means of financial patronage, and condemned their attempts to control public service media.

MEPs emphasised that the role of public service media as trusted providers serving the general public interest would be enhanced by appropriate and sustainable funding, free from political interference in the Member States.

The EP noted that women journalists are especially vulnerable to harassment and intimidation and should be subject to additional safeguards. Parliamentarians expressed deep concerns about the rise in attacks against female journalists and media workers and reiterated their call on Member States to take a gender-sensitive approach when considering measures to address the safety of journalists.

Today we witness democracy being withdrawn, power taken with lies, asserted Magdalena Adamowicz (EPP, PL), rapporteur on the resolution. There is no freedom without media independence, no democracy without media pluralism, she said, remarking that media should serve the truth, not lies. “It should serve voters, not those in power, and should be a check on power. Media should protect democracy, but media can also kill it. That is why it must be independent,” she added.

The resolution stresses that excessive concentration of ownership in the content-producing and content-distributing sectors may threaten citizens' access to a range of content.

It also underlines that media pluralism, which depends on the existence of a diversity of media ownership and of content as well as independent journalism, is key to challenging the spread of disinformation and ensuring that EU citizens are well-informed.

EU money cannot be spent on state-controlled media and media that distribute political propaganda, MEPs underscored.

Lawmakers recalled that according to the Media Pluralism Monitor 2020, media ownership concentration remains one of the most significant risks to media pluralism and is seen as creating barriers to the diversity of information.

In this respect, they called on the Member States to adopt and implement media ownership regulatory frameworks in order to avoid horizontal concentration of ownership in the media sector and to guarantee transparency, disclosure and easy accessibility for citizens with regard to information on media ownership, funding sources and management.

In the resolution, parliamentarians put their finger on the need of a more robust legal framework to prevent and combat increasing online hate speech and call for more collaboration between online platforms and law enforcement authorities. According to them, the voluntary actions of the platforms are necessary yet still insufficient in tackling disinformation, illegal content and foreign interference, but “online platforms cannot and must not become private censors”. The removal of illegal content must be subject to safeguards, they urged.

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