From the European Media Freedom Act to the right to information: the challenges ahead

On the eve of the European elections, Reporters without Borders (RSF) with the Kofi Annan Foundation (KAF) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) organised a roundtable discussion on EMFA and the challenges ahead. Stakeholders urged EU member states and the European Commission to implement and enforce the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) with determination, and to make press freedom and the right to information a priority for the next five years.

“The European Media Freedom Act is a response to the very real threats to the media in Europe... There can be no democracy without independent journalists,” Vice-President of the European Commission, Vera Jourova stressed, in her keynote speech at the roundtable discussion on the EMFA on 7 May, two days before elections.

She highlighted the role of civil society in advocating and supporting the conception and adoption of the EMFA, and called for their continued engagement. Whilst expressing satisfaction with this landmark legislation, she emphasised the challenges ahead, starting with the EMFA’s implementation, the setting up of the new media regulators’ oversight board, the AI revolution, and the economic sustainability of independent media in Europe.

“The EMFA is not the end of the journeybut a main milestone on the road ahead.

Antoine Bernard
RSF’s advocacy and assistance director

Challenges ahead

Over the past five years, unprecedented raft of instruments have been adopted on her watch to protect journalists, media freedom and recognise a right to information, reminded Antoine Bernard : the Digital Services Act (DSA), the Code of Practice against Disinformation, the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) Directive and now the EMFA.

But many challenges remain as Corinne Momal-Vanian pointed out : although the European Union remains a bulwark of democracy in the world, the 2023 Rule of Law Report, the Global Press Freedom Index and the Media Freedom Mapping Platform show that press freedom is not in good health across the continent, while the Media Pluralism Observatory reveals worrying trends in terms of pluralism and transparency of ownership. “Media are the canaries in the coal mine, whose treatment is a key indicator of democratic health,” opined Ms Momal-Vanian. 

Trustworthy information online

“EMFA is a historic act: it is the first time there is a holistic European regulation dealing with all media,” stressed Renate Schroeder from the EFJ. “People are finally realising that journalism is a public good.” But Ms Schroeder raised concerns that the upcoming elections to the European Parliament could undermine the political will that led to EMFA, and that will be required for its implementation and enforcement.

Renate Nikolay agreed that implementation would be key and noted that based on the experience of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Commission had focused a great deal on building solid enforcement mechanisms into the DSA and the EMFA.

“But we need to keep moving: we think it is time to guarantee the citizens’ right to trustworthy information, especially on platforms and with the generative AI revolution coming up,” announced Mr Bernard. He emphasised the need to protect media sustainability on platforms and fight disinformation with an obligation on social networks, search engines and generative AI to amplify trustworthy sources of information.

The roundtable took place with Corinne Momal-Vanian, Executive Director of KAF, Renate Schroeder, Director of EFJ, and Antoine Bernard, Director of Advocacy at RSF, followed by a keynote speech from Vice-President of the European Commission, Vera Jourova. Sébastien Brack, KAF’s representative in Brussels, moderated a panel discussion with Renate Nikolay, Deputy Director-General of DG Connect, Frederic Bokobza, Deputy Director-General of the French media regulator, Arcom, and representative from the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA), Wouter Gekiere, Head of the Brussels office of the European Broadcasting Union, Renate Schroeder, and Julie Majerczak, Director of the Brussels office of RSF.

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