(es) Brussels, November 23, 2021
This is the text of Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová‘s message to the AEJ’s general assembly last night. Her brief is Values and Transparency. See also our profile interview of the Commissioner.
It is a pleasure for me to participate, though virtually, in this year’s General Assembly of the Association of European Journalists. I would like to thank the President of the Association, Isaia Tsaousidou, for the invitation.
I am aware that the event could not take place earlier this year in the beautiful region of Evia due to the devastating fires. I would like to express my solidarity with the Greek section of the Association and all those who have been affected by the dramatic events of the past weeks and months.
The pandemic has shown, more than ever, the crucial role that media play to inform citizens. This is recognised in Europe, and worldwide.
The recent Nobel Peace Prize awarded to brave journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov gives a clear signal. They were rewarded for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.
As European Commission President von der Leyen said in her State of the Union address: defending media freedom means defending our democracy.
This is why the Commission decided to cover media freedom and pluralism as part of its annual rule of law report and as a key pillar of its European Democracy Action Plan. We are now rolling out the measures that we announced.
In September, we adopted the first-ever recommendations on the safety of journalists.
The message is clear : no journalist should die or be harmed for doing their job. We ask Member States to take a series of measures, with a specific focus on the safety of female journalists and those belonging to minorities.
An important practical idea is that Member States should ensure the creation of independent national support services, including helplines, legal advice, psychological support and shelters for journalists and media professionals facing threats.
We will continue supporting initiatives at EU level, such as the services provided by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom in Germany.
In parallel, the Commission is working on an initiative to fight abusive litigation against journalists and rights defenders. This phenomenon of Strategic Litigation against Public Participation – so-called SLAPP – is gaining ground in the EU.
Legal threats and abusive litigation add to an environment where hostile activity against journalists is growing. It can have a serious impact on their willingness and ability to continue their work.
We believe that the most efficient way to fight SLAPPs is a solid and balanced combination of legislative and non-legislative measures.
The Commission has recently the public consultation on this initiative and I invite you to take part in it.
Our next step is the Media Freedom Act.
The Commission intends to present the proposal in the third quarter of next year. The aim is to protect media freedom and pluralism.
We need a series of rules based on common principles, such as the editorial independence of the media and the transparency of ownership.
We will consult very broadly. We aim to launch the public consultation at the end of this year, and I look forward to your views.
Independent media also play a key role in the fight against disinformation – another objective of the European Democracy Action Plan.
Following the publication of our guidance to strengthen the Code of Practice on disinformation in May, our aim is to have the new Code ready in the coming months.
I think we all agree on the urgency to move forward with the Digital Services and Markets Acts.
These proposals address the powerful, too powerful, role of online platforms – which in many ways put independent media at a disadvantage.
The protection of fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and information, is at the core of the Digital Services Act. We introduced robust safeguards to make sure that legitimate content, such as the editorial content of media services, stays online and remains available to citizens. We will make sure that those safeguards are applied.
The Commission will also propose, in the coming weeks ,additional legislation on political advertising online. People must know why they are seeing an ad, who paid for it, how much, what micro-targeting criteria were used. We have seen there are players on this market that escape the regulatory scrutiny.
Discussions like the one you will have during the Assembly are essential to accompany and inform the necessary developments in Europe – at all levels.
Media freedom and pluralism – along with democracy, equality, the rule of law, respect for human rights – are core EU values.
They are and should be at the heart of everything we do. These values bind us together. This is why we need to find together the best way to protect them across the EU.
♦ A dangerous profession – even in “safe” Europe