The European Commission presented a week ago the European Law on Freedom of the Media, which seeks to protect the editorial independence and make the property of the media known. For this, the content of this norm tries to put an end to the conflicts of interests of the entrepreneurs of other sectors that buy media, to the temptation of the big technological platforms to abuse the media, to the interference of the Governments in the media to condition the editorial line and the incursion of countries outside the EU in the community media with the intention of destabilizing and disinforming (Russia).
The regulation approved by the Commission will be debated in the European Parliament and in the EU member states, and after its approval it will be automatically converted into a mandatory application for all countries. The norm is accompanied by a part that has recommendations, because the Commission wants to leave room for self-regulation of its media. “In the last years, we have observed diverse forms of pressure on media. The moment to act has come”, says Vera Jourová, vice president of the European Commission on Values and Transparency. The regulations bring the following novelties:
– Transparency of the property. The norm obliges “the companies that offer informative and topical content”, to the media, to make public the shareholding of these companies on a regular basis. Currently, the companies in the sector that are listed on the Stock Exchange (Prisa, Vocento, Atresmedia and Mediaset) have the obligation to communicate to shareholders with more than 5% and the participation of directors. Sin embargo, se desconoce cual es el accionariado de the major part of native digital media.
– Conflict of interests. With the aim of guaranteeing independence in editorial decisions, the new law establishes the obligation to communicate “real or potential conflicts of interest” that may occur between media owners and their editorial line. In Italy, for example, the cases of the Agnelli and Berlusconi families are very clear. The first is the principal shareholder of the Stellantis automotive group (Fiat, Chrysler, Peugeot, Citroën, Opel, etc.), and recently he acquired the newspapers La Repubblica y La Stampay es el primer accionista de The Economist. Silvio Berlusconi is the majority shareholder of Mediaset, which has TV channels for European media, and is the promoter of the political party Forza Italia.
-Medios públicos The European Commission also puts the focus on the media controlled by the States, and points out that “its funding must be adequate and stable, to guarantee editorial independence”. In addition, it establishes that the nominations of the director and members of the board of directors must be done in a “transparent, open and non-discriminatory” manner. All this with the objective of facilitating plurality and impartiality that corresponds to “his mission of public service”. Los partidos politicos españoles should read this regulation and contrast it with their performance in RTVE, EFE and autonomic televisions.
– Publicidad estatal. The new law is very clear, demanding that the allocation of publicity has to be “transparent, objective, proportional and non-discriminatory”. The Comisión signals that “the public authorities and the state companies” will have to publish annually the advertising expenses, with the identity and the concrete import disbursed annually. En España se está publishing very partial information.
– Medidores de audiencia. The Commission commits to the new regulations “will increase the transparency and objectivity of the audience measurement systems, which affect the prices of advertising, especially on the Internet”. For this reason, this regulation requires measurement companies to facilitate the media and advertising agencies to detail the method they use. This is especially relevant, because there is a huge mistrust in the entire industry (announcers, agencies and media outlets) of the data that Comscore gave and now provides GFK.
– Prohibido espiar a periodistas. Queda prohibido “el uso de programas espía contra los medias de comunicación, los journalistis y sus familias”. Establishes as exceptions, which must be duly justified, investigations for reasons of national security or grave crimes, such as terrorism, infantile pornography or murder. In addition, the journalist who is investigated by his Government can request effective judicial protection before an independent jurisdictional body of the Member State, which must designate an authority that meets these conditions to process the claims of spying on journalists. This norm was produced shortly after it became known that the Pegasus software, developed in Israel and used by the intelligence services of different countries, had been spying on politicians and journalists.
– Internet content protection. The big platforms (more than 45 million users in the EU) will not be able to remove “contents produced in accordance with professional standards” by the media. Before making the suspension of the content effective, they will have to inform the media of the reasons for taking this measure.
– European Council of Media Services. The Commission proposes the creation of this new European body, which replaces the European Regulatory Organizations Group for Audiovisual Communication Services (ERGA). This council will be integrated by national authorities responsible for the media. Their functions will be promoting the effective application of this regulation, advising the CE and issuing “directrices sobre regulación issues” of the media and “dictámenes sobre medidas y decisions nacionales” that affect the sector. Vigilará expresamente los procesos de concentración de los medias de comunicación.
This council will be in charge of “coordinating national regulatory measures related to the media of third countries that assume risk for public security” and the “fight against misinformation.” A este consejo had corresponded to prohibit the broadcasts of Russian TV or Sputnik, which were closed by the CE in the beginning of March, a few days after the invasion of Ukraine.
This Council also aspires to be a mediator between the great global technological platforms, fundamentally of EE UU, and the communication media to promote good practices and avoid misinformation.
“The EU is the largest single democratic market in the world. Media companies play a fundamental role, but they suffer from a decrease in revenue, threats to freedom and pluralism,” said Thierry Breton, commissioner of the Interior Market. Poco que adder.
Aurelio Medel es doctor en Ciencias de la Información y profesor de la Universidad Complutense