The European Commission unveiled a raft of new rules on Friday to ensure media independence after growing fears of state meddling in eastern EU countries such as Hungary and Poland.
Brussels has grown increasingly worried about the weight of the state on news and media in a growing number of EU countries, with public television in Hungary widely seen as a mouthpiece for Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Media pluralism is also a concern in the Czech Republic where former prime minister Andrej Babis owns a major media group and has been accused of subverting press freedom after he used his newspapers to attack the integrity of other news outlets.
The European Media Freedom Act will provide “common safeguards… to guarantee that our media are able to operate without any interference, be it private or public,” said EU commissioner Thierry Breton.
“We’re proposing a regulation which will apply across the board in Europe in the same way and according to the same rules,” he said.
One of the main components of the law will be a new authority that will allow the EU’s 27 countries to have an eye on media mergers that would affect the plurality of media ownership.
It will also demand that funding of state media be “adequate and stable” in order to prevent governments using budget allocations to pressure publicly owned media companies and newsrooms.
The regulation, which needs to be approved by EU member countries and the European Parliament, would also require that national governments pass laws that adequately guarantee the protection of journalistic sources.
The European-wide watchdog will be composed of national regulators that would ensure the proper enforcement of the law across the EU.
They would also coordinate the EU’s response to non-EU media, a key source of concern after the difficulty of aligning a united response to the presence of Russia Today, a Kremlin-funded television channel, in the days following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We want it to apply as quickly as possible… because we consider it to be a matter of great urgency,” said EU commission Vice President Vera Jourova.