The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission has proposed a new piece of legislature designed to ensure among other things, freedom of the press across its member countries.
Dubbed the “European Media Freedom Act” it’s described by the commission as “a novel set of rules to protect media pluralism and independence in the EU”.
Greek MP and deputy minister to the Prime Minister, Giannis Oikonomou gave a statement on 19 September highlighting the government’s legislative initiatives and policies on the matter.
“With regard to the protection of freedom of expression and pluralism, the protection of the journalistic profession, the support of press businesses and the strengthening of transparency and independence of the media.”
The proposed regulations, which will now be referred to the EU’s Council and Parliament for consideration, intend to establish a union wide legal framework for the protection of the press.
It comes in fulfilment of President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen’s promise to “deliver a Media Freedom Act in the next year” when she affirmed the essential independence of media companies and the need for laws safeguarding them in last year’s State of the Union address.
The proposal outlines the rights of media service providers, stating that EU member states and their authorities “shall not interfere with or influence editorial decisions, detain or subject to surveillance journalists, their employers or their families” as well as prohibiting “the deployment of spyware designed to exploit digital devices”.
But its aims are broad reaching, seeking to institute a fully independent “European Board for Media Services” to oversee the application of the new regulations. It also plans to make compulsory full transparency of media services’ ownership both direct and indirect.
This all comes in the wake of a spree of media clampdown scandals among member states.
Greece this year ranked lowest among EU members in Reporters without Borders’ (RSF) annual press freedom list, sitting at 108 out of 180 countries surveyed, a 38 position drop from 2021. Australia ranks 39/180, down 14 spots from last year.
On 11 November last year, the Greek parliament approved an amendment to its ‘Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure’ which broadened the definition of “false information” and increased the penalties for breaches of the law.
RSF says the changes “violate the right of journalists to disseminate information of general interest.”
They report that under article 191 of Greece’s amended penal code, the spread in public or online of any information that “causes concern or fear among citizens” or “disturbs public confidence in the national economy, defence or public health” is punishable by a prison sentence of between three months and five years.
The Commission hopes that if adopted, the proposal will allow the bloc to maintain its status as “a stronghold of free media, setting a standard as a democratic continent”.