Media Freedom Groups troubled with the CULT report on…

Media Freedom Groups troubled with the CULT report on the EMFA proposal

Apr 28, 2023

Dear Sabine Verheyen,


We, the undersigned journalists, press freedom, civil society, trade unions, and digital rights groups, are writing to you with regard to the proposed amendments to the draft  European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) you have written as the Rapporteur on behalf of the Committee on Culture and Education (CULT). 


We thank the rapporteur for the timely drafting and appreciate several amendments in the report, such as the strengthening of the independence of the European Board for Media Services. 


However, we are very concerned about many changes that dilute the impact of the proposal , as well as the harmonization effort that drives the EMFA.  Moreover, the removal of the explicit reference and guarantee of journalists and editors’ editorial independence throughout the proposal, and the changing of the media pluralism test from mandatory to optional in national rules raise our concern regarding the EMFA’s capacity to adequately protect media pluralism and media freedom in the EU.


Our main critical points are the following:  

  • The removal of almost all references to editorial independence in the proposal and the insertion of media owners’ right to assume a leading editorial role (Art 6.2);
  • The insertion of VLOPs into the media plurality assessment and the exchange of a mandatory nature for a voluntary one (Art 21); and
  • The failure to strengthen media ownership transparency rules (Art 6.1).


Editorial independence is an essential pillar of media freedom that helps guarantee the integrity of a media’s journalism and protection against the undue influence of vested interests from political or business groups. The latest scandal surrounding Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of Axel Springer, seeking to interfere in editorial policy of Germany’s largest newspaper underlines the vulnerability of our media to vested interests and the necessity to maintain protections on editorial independence across Europe.


The inclusion of Very Large Online Platforms under the media plurality test under Art 21 should also be removed as it prejudges the methodology to be developed for protecting news media pluralism in Europe. News media plurality cannot be looked at in isolation and VLOPs as with other actors such as advertising companies have a significant impact on the media economy and this is recognised already in the Digital Markets Act (Regulation 2022/1925). However, to insert VLOPs into the EMFA which is primarily focused on a public interest test for news media is premature and ties the hands of the policy experts assigned to develop the media plurality test.


We kindly remind you that the media ownership transparency obligations on media under Article 6.1 should be strengthened as it is only through clear publicly available and verifiable information that the public can make informed decisions about the integrity of the media. This is also a request in the recently published independent research for the CULT Committee on the EMFA. Only this way will we achieve meaningful transparency.


We call on you, dear Sabine Verheyen, and on all CULT members as the lead committee, which has been a reliable and vocal campaigner for media freedoms across the European Union, to stick to your principles and help to improve this act as a regulation so much needed in the EU and beyond.


With kind regards,

Signed by:

  • Association of European Journalists (AEJ Belgium)
  • Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties)
  • Eurocadres
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • Society of Journalists, Warsaw
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Detail of the national flag of Slovakia waving in the wind with blurred european union flag in the background on a clear day. Democracy and politics. European country. Library

Slovakia: Government pushes ahead with ambitious media reform program

Slovakia: Government pushes ahead with ambitious media reform program

New laws on source protection and media ownership transparency provide model for neighbouring countries

By IPI contributor Miroslava Kernová,

In recent months Slovakia has passed important legislative changes which will ensure a better media environment and move the country closer to standards outlined by the recently published European Media Freedom Act (EMFA).

Moreover, in addition to the laws already passed, others are in preparation. If the full package is achieved, Slovakia can become a leading example of press freedom for other EU countries, such as Hungary or Poland, where press freedom continues to face major challenges from media capture.

In its program statement (2020-24), the current government promised a complex reform which would reflect modern changes in the media environment. The changes this reform introduces and proposes are revolutionary by Slovak standards.

The problem with previous Slovak media legislation was that it did not reflect the online environment, titled the scales in favour of political forces, and allowed ways for these forces to influence public media.

The motivation for the change is also public pressure for better protection of journalists after the brutal murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kušnírová in 2018.


Reforms passed already

In August, the parliament passed a new Act on Media and the Act on Publications, replacing two outdated laws, the Press Act and the Compulsory Copies Act.

These new laws strengthen the protection of journalists, extend source protection to online media, and bring greater transparency to media ownership and funding, which strengthens their credibility against media disseminating disinformation.

Firstly, under the new Act on Media and Act on Publications, the right to protect the confidentiality of sources – which was in the past only guaranteed for broadcast and print media journalists – has been extended to include journalists from online media.

Secondly, media outlets must also declare any investor or donor who invests more than €2,000 per year. This change should make the media environment in Slovakia more transparent. A number of anonymous sources of disinformation, pro-Russian or politically motivated websites operating in Slovakia would have to declare their real “final beneficiaries” in a public register, which will allow anyone to verify whose is behind these outlets. For non-compliance with this obligation, media may receive a warning or a fine of up to €20,000.

Thirdly, the new law also strengthens the protection of minors, improves access to audio-visual content for the disabled by increasing quotas for multimodal access, and specifically promotes broadcasting for national minorities and ethnic groups in public service broadcasting.

It also regulates the conditions for television and radio, regardless of whether they broadcast standardly or online, and introduces several rights and obligations for television and radio. Every viewer will now be able to find out who owns a given medium and there will be a register where all the information will be available. This will be administered by the Ministry of Culture, which is to establish the register within 30 months of the adoption of the law.

In addition, the law redefines general rules for advertising in both public and private media and, in line with European requirements, introduces the notion of community periodicals into the Slovak legislation and allows for the application of self-regulatory mechanisms.


Last minute amendments from politicians

The downside of the new media laws, however, is that MPs in the last steps of finalising the legislation process introduced a “right to expression” for public officials into it, thus securing for themselves more media space than ordinary citizens. The right to expression for public officials was only included in the bill at the end of the second reading in parliament – as amendments by MPs from Sme rodina and OĽaNO.

“Politicians have their channels of communication. The most followed profiles on social networks belong to politicians, they express themselves in press conferences that are broadcast. So there is no reason for a politician to exercise his right to express himself in the exercise of his public office,” media lawyer Tomáš Kamenec told the daily SME.

In the original draft law, the right to expression could only be used to deny, supplement, clarify or explain factual allegations. Parliament eventually approved amendments that extended the right to expression to value judgments based (columns or opinion pieces) on disputed claims.

Alexej Fulmek from the Association of Print and Digital Media (ATDM) and CEO of the Petit Press publishing house considers the adoption of the “right to expression” as a step backwards. “Unfortunately, politicians in Slovakia are mostly under the impression that the media are causing harm to this country and that they are the ones who have to fight them. They don’t understand that the role of the media is to be critical, especially towards politicians. In this atmosphere the idea prevailed that politicians need some ‘stick’ against the media. This probably seemed to them as an adequate solution,” Fulmek told Strategie magazine.


Increasing protection for journalists

Additional planned changes deal with the protection of journalists. Draft amendments to the Criminal Code would remove the long-criticised prison sentence for defamation, which has been a major threat to journalists in Slovakia for years. Under the current law, defamation carries a prison sentence of two to eight years. Under the new legislation, defamation would not carry a prison sentence.

The planned amendment to the criminal code also introduces so-called “special motives” for crimes, which will include a crime committed against someone for exercising of their job, profession or function. This may contribute to better protection of journalists and other professions (doctors, teachers, security forces…) who face many threats and can face attacks in their work. A crime committed with a specific motive will carry higher penalty.

For now, the draft of this law remains parked at the ministry of culture. Questions remain over whether the government will find the political will to pass such legislation.


Further changes planned

The Ministry of Justice has also proposed amendments to extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. The amendment expands both the scope of information to be provided and the persons obliged to provide it. For example, the draft also extends the list of companies that are obliged to provide information to state-owned companies and second- and third-tier subsidiaries of state-owned companies, which are not covered by the current law.

The proposal also extends the mandatory disclosure of information to persons seeking public office as well as to public officials themselves. It also introduces an obligation to publish all amendments to contracts subject to mandatory publication.

The Ministry of Culture wants to implement the PersVeilig (Press Safe) platform for greater protection of journalists in Slovakia, following the example of the Netherlands.

In 2019, the PersVeilig platform was launched in the Netherlands to improve the safety of journalists. The platform was also created because although journalists faced threats, they often did not report them because they felt they were not sufficiently dealt with by the police. PersVeilig improves cooperation between journalists, their employers, the police and prosecutors.

The Slovak Ministry of Culture wants to work with the Netherlands to improve the protection of journalists domestically. “We are not talking about whether it should be an organisation, a platform, a technical or procedural solution. What we want is to reach a concrete result that can be implemented and traced,” said Radoslav Kutaš, the ministry’s state secretary, told Denník N.

If all these plans are indeed implemented, Slovakia will meet many of the requirements of the European Media Freedom Act regarding of the protection of media pluralism and independence, and in some respects may even go beyond them, such as the ambition to create a special platform to protect journalists.


Challenges remain

Despite many positive ambitions, the media environment in Slovakia continues to face problems. Journalists, especially those from the opinion-making media, are constantly targets of verbal attacks from politicians, mainly from former Prime Minister Igor Matovic, but also from the opposition.

For example, the deputy chairman of the opposition Smer party, Ľuboš Blaha, regularly dehumanises journalists. Matovič, who leads the biggest party in parliament, also regularly attacks journalists on his Facebook page and recently accused unspecified media of corruption, “spreading lies” and compared the work of Slovak journalists to Nazi propaganda.

In Slovakia, the problematic environment for independent public service media also remains a major issue. The main problem is that both the director and the supervisory boards of Slovak Radio and Television (RTVS) are elected in parliament after political agreements are made. Politicians still have influence over the funding of public service media. Changes need to be made to guarantee that public service media management and funding are more independent and more resistant to political pressures.

Even if the political will is there, the road ahead contains multiple pitfalls. The forthcoming changes may be stalled by the current unstable political situation that brings about the possibility of the fall of the current government and of early national parliamentary elections, which may result in a government of such parties that do not favour the idea of a free media.

However, if the planned changes are passed, Slovakia would take major steps forward in strengthening the legal frameworks for media freedom and provide a positive example to follow for other EU Members States in Central and Eastern Europe in the years to come.

This article is part of IPI’s reporting series “Media freedom in Europe in the shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondents throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI. This reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and by the European Commisson (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response coalition.

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EU: Amidst war in Ukraine, EU must provide emergency…

EU: Amidst war in Ukraine, EU must provide emergency visas for Russian & Belarusian journalists fleeing repression

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today call on the Member States of the European Union to set a global example of support for media freedom in crisis by extending emergency shelter and visa waivers to Russian journalists fleeing the country, as well as Belarusian journalists seeking refuge from war and repression.

Independent journalists and media in Russia are currently experiencing the most severe and wide-ranging crackdown in the last thirty years. Leading broadcasters have been silenced or shuttered; dozens of news websites have been blocked; use of the word “invasion” or “war” have been banned; and a new law criminalizing what authorities deem to be “fake” news or information about the armed forces could see journalists jailed for up to 15 years.

More than 150 Russian journalists have since fled the country fearing for their safety and their liberty. With the crackdown showing no signs of abating, more are likely to follow. So far, most journalists have travelled to neighbouring countries with visa-free entry for Russian citizens: Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan. Some have been arbitrarily turned away, transferred on and, in the case of Dozhd TV’s Mikhail Fishman, detained. Those that do get in are faced with working in exile in states with repressive environments for independent media.

Action is urgently needed to ensure Russia’s independent media is not destroyed altogether. Our organisations call on all EU Member States to provide safe havens for dissident Russian journalists to re-establish their bases of operations and continue reporting. Exemptions must be made by EU states to provide emergency visas to journalists and their families. In addition to financial support to Ukrainian media, EU governments should provide funding to help Russian newsrooms relocate to safety.

Visa exemptions should also be extended to independent Belarusian journalists, who over the past year and a half have undergone a similarly repressive crackdown under President Alexander Lukashenko. Mass arrests and the threat of criminal prosecution led to an exodus of Belarusian journalists, including into neighbouring Ukraine. While Ukrainian journalists fleeing the war currently enjoy visa waivers, their Belarusian colleagues are trapped and are unable to seek safety within the EU’s borders.

The European Union has already shown remarkable unity in its response to the bloody invasion of Ukraine. Though much more needs to be done, the support from Member States to help relocate Ukrainian journalists fleeing the bloodshed has been commendable. A similar show of European unity in helping independent Russian and Belarusian journalists is now needed. If allowed to relocate inside the democratic legal framework of the European Union and rebuild their newsrooms in exile, these independent media may stand a chance of survival.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.


MFRR partners welcome European Commission’s Recommendation on protection, safety…

MFRR partners welcome European Commission’s Recommendation on protection, safety and empowerment of journalists

The partner organisations in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) welcome the European Commission’s Recommendation on ensuring the protection, safety and empowerment of journalists and media professionals in the European Union, presented today. The document is a testament to the Commission’s much-needed engagement in the defence of press freedom and media pluralism as critical elements of the Union’s foundational values in the face of increased attacks and threats to journalists and media workers across the region in recent years. At the same time, it serves as an indictment of the lack of meaningful action by a number of member states and candidate countries who, despite the existence of clear laws and standards to improve the safety of journalists and media workers such as those set out in Council of Europe Recommendation 2016(4) among others, have done too little to turn the tide on this worrisome trend.

The Commission’s Recommendation includes a host of measures that, taken together, should drive member states to improve journalists’ safety and put a halt to an emerging climate of impunity, if they are duly implemented. We welcome the repeated call on the member states’ authorities to engage with the media community and seek the views of journalists, media workers and civil society on ways to prevent and address threats and attacks. Furthermore, as partner organisations in a Europe-wide response mechanism, we particularly appreciate the recommendation to set up national independent response and support mechanisms to provide legal advice, psychological support and shelter for journalists and media workers who face threats and attacks. It is evident that the needs in this regard far outstrip capacity, and local action is needed to close this gap: with the MFRR, we have documented no less than 482 incidents in the EU between January 2020 and June 2021, affecting 1256 persons or media entities in 24 member states. Considering moreover that nearly one out of every three incidents occurred during demonstrations, the particular attention paid to this context in the Recommendation is appropriate. Equally welcome is the call for better social protection for journalists and the specific focus on the distinct protection needs of women journalists and those belonging to minority groups or reporting on equality, and those working in non-standard forms of employment, all of whom are particularly at risk.

The key to the Recommendation’s success will lie in effectively following up on its outcomes and holding the member states to account if their implementation is lacking. We call on the Commission to closely involve journalists and media workers, their unions and associations, and civil society in developing the key performance indicators and in the subsequent monitoring of the implementation. In the meantime, we call on the EU’s member states and candidate countries to heed the Commission’s recommendations and step up their action to ensure the protection, safety and empowerment of journalists and media workers.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

EU action needed to tackle spyware abuses after Pegasus…

EU action needed to tackle spyware abuses after Pegasus revelations

As the European Parliament today debates the Pegasus spyware scandal, the undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) call for an immediate investigation into the alleged use of the spyware against journalists by Hungarian authorities and urge the strong implementation of new EU rules on the export of cyber-surveillance technology around the world.


Revelations by the Pegasus Project that at least 180 journalists in 20 countries had their phones infected by the NSO Group’s spyware underscored the need for urgent action by the international community to tackle the unregulated spread of such technology and to create safeguards for the protection of human rights, including the freedom of the press.

Within the European Union, credible allegations indicate that Pegasus was illegally deployed by Hungarian intelligence or national security services in 2018 and 2019 against at least five journalists, including András Szabó and Szabolcs Panyi from Direkt36, one of Hungary’s last remaining independent media outlets. Fresh revelations surfaced last week when Hungarian media reported that Zoltán Páva, the publisher of the news portal and former Member of the European Parliament, had been surveilled using Pegasus as recently as May this year.

Last week it was also revealed that the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) secretly purchased the technology from NSO in 2019. In France, prosecutors are probing allegations that journalists from media outlets including Le Monde, Agence France-Presse and FRANCE 24 were surveilled by Moroccan intelligence services using Pegasus.

The failure to control the acquisition, trade and use of such intrusive technology inside the bloc means that the number of EU member states to have bought Pegasus or other similar cyber-surveillance technology remains unknown. Current estimations may represent the tip of the iceberg. This opacity poses significant threats to journalistic sources, privacy and safety, undermines media freedom and constitutes a clear failure by the EU to close the gaps in its regulatory framework.

As Parliament debates the matter, our organisations again urge the European Commission to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into alleged abuses by the Hungarian authorities against journalists and others. The Commission must establish the extent of Hungary’s use of Pegasus, identify what safeguards have been implemented and react to any abuses. Until such an investigation is carried out, the Pegasus revelations will continue to undermine journalists’ safety and have a chilling effect on what remains of independent media within the country. Robust and effective legal protection must be guaranteed within EU member states against unlawful surveillance by domestic intelligence, national security and law enforcement agencies to guard against human rights violations, including the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy as protected under domestic, European and international law.

At the same time, the EU needs to protect journalists from illegal surveillance outside as well as inside its borders. Reports by NSO that suggest that EU member states Cyprus and Bulgaria granted export licenses for its technology are also deeply disturbing. While Cypriot authorities have denied to the Commission that it has any export links with NSO, the assurances remain unsatisfying. Meanwhile, the response from the Bulgarian authorities has yet to be disclosed. The Commission must renew its engagement with the relevant authorities in Sofia to seek immediate clarity. If confirmed, immediate action must be taken to revoke the export license and establish how and when it was granted.

EU member states themselves have a role to play. On September 9, after a decade of negotiation, new EU export controls came into force with the Recast Dual-Use Regulation, which among other things aims to strengthen controls on the international trade of so-called “dual-use” cyber-surveillance tools. The MFRR urges all 27 member states to swiftly implement this landmark regulation and to collaborate in a transparent manner with the Commission on the sharing of information involving the export of such surveillance tools from the customs union.

The subsequent annual report prepared by the Commission under this regulation should act as a much-needed tool for holding the national authorities authorising the sale of this technology to account. It will also lift the veil on the potential sale of spyware tools by commercial actors based in EU member states to authoritarian regimes around the world. For too long the industry has been able to escape proper oversight and regulation. The Commission should closely monitor and enforce states’ adherence to the new rules. Moving forward, more frequent compilation of information and updates about the buying and selling of advanced surveillance tools may be required to address a fast-changing market.

Despite the modest advances in rights protection in relation to the licensing of these technologies for export from the EU subsequent to the entry into force of the recast dual-use regulation, there evidently remains the need for an internationally applicable regulatory framework that can prevent, mitigate and redress the negative human rights impact of surveillance technology. Until this is in place, we continue to call for a global moratorium on the sale and transfer of spyware technology. The European Union should lead the way on pushing for international agreements on the freeze of sales of these cyberweapons around the world.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
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EU Rule of Law report: Little bark, no bite

EU Rule of Law report: Little bark, no bite

On 20 July, the European Commission published the 2021 Rule of Law Report. The document, which is the outcome of months of painstaking work, can be a valuable tool that empowers civil society, the EU institutions and Member State governments who care about the rule of law in the Union. The Report, comprised of a Communication that covers EU-wide developments and country chapters for each Member State, is designed “as a yearly cycle to promote the rule of law and to prevent problems from emerging or deepening and to address them … It seeks to strengthen the rule of law in full respect for national traditions and specificities, stimulating a constructive debate and encouraging all Member States to examine how challenges can be addressed and to learn from each other’s experiences.” 

In its current form, the Report represents a significant descriptive documentation effort. However, for it to live up to the high expectations and truly become a critical tool that can contribute to the promotion and safeguarding of EU values, we believe several fundamental changes are needed in future iterations of the report.

Firstly, we believe that more transparency from the Commission on the methodology and selection process of stakeholders invited to consultation meetings, as well as closer consultation and collaboration with civil society to design a more straightforward and more easily accessible process, would greatly benefit its credibility. We appreciate that the Commission has “further deepened our assessment, which benefited from even more outreach than last year,” as Commissioner Reynders said at the press conference presenting the Report. However, given the current lack of openness concerning the methodology, it is difficult to assess how inclusive the process really is and to what extent shortcomings in this regard are systematically addressed.

Secondly, looking at the Communication and country reports as a whole, it appears that the process of “looking at all Member States equally” has resulted in depoliticised analyses in anodyne language that present the situation in all Member States as roughly equal, allowing for measured praise and criticism of each. Subsequently, we believe that the Report as a whole does not reflect the reality of the depth of the rule of law crisis in Poland and Hungary or how starkly the intentional violation of core EU values in these Member States contrasts with the situation in the rest of the Union. It also undermines the Report’s ability to prevent problems from emerging, as is currently the case in certain other Member States including Slovenia, or to stimulate debate and mutual learning.

Lastly, to strengthen the process’ capacity to bring about substantial change, we continue to call for country-specific recommendations. These should be framed in the context of Member States’ obligations under EU law and international human rights law and standards, which would allow for tracking and evaluating progress and regression against an agreed, binding framework.

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)