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Using spyware against journalists.

Agreement reached on European media law including use of spyware

An agreement on the European Media Freedom Act was reached between the European Parliament and governments in the European Council shortly before the Christmas holiday. The new law includes rules on transparency of ownership and funding and ban on forcing journalists to disclose sources and use of spyware against them, except in strictly defined cases. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) welcomed the agreement stressing that the final version no longer refers to the possibility of spying on journalists on the basis of vague “national security” imperatives. 

“This is a victory for all defenders of press freedom and democracy”, the organisation said in a statement.

The law includes a prohibition on journalists and editors having to disclose their sources, including by detainment, sanctions, office searches or by installing intrusive surveillance software (spyware) on their devices.

By way of derogation, such interferences will only be permitted on a case-by-case basis ‘by an overriding reason of public interest’, subject to authorisation by a judicial authority. 

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The law says EU countries will have to ensure the editorial and functional independence of public media by:

– appointing heads and board members through transparent and non-discriminatory procedures. Their term of office will have to be long enough to guarantee the media’s independence, and dismissing them before the end of their term will be prohibited, except when they no longer meet their performance criteria (judicial review possible);

– transparent and objective funding procedures, as well as sustainable and predictable funding to safeguard independence;

– independent monitoring of media’s political independence, with public reports.

– member state authorities being prohibited from interfering with editorial decisions.

– media, including micro-enterprises, must publish information on their direct and indirect owners, including if they are directly or indirectly owned by the state or a public authority, in a national database.

– media will also have to report on funds received from state advertising and on state financial support. This includes funds from non-EU countries.

The Parliament says the agreement includes the creation of a system to ensure that decisions on content moderation by very large online platforms do not negatively affect media freedom.

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To ensure media outlets do not become dependent on state advertising, public funds to media service providers or online platforms will be allocated via open and non-discriminatory procedures, based on public criteria. 

Member states will have to distribute state advertising expenditure to a wide plurality of media.

Public authorities will publish information every year about their state advertising expenditure, the total annual amount spent and the amounts spent per media service provider or online platform.

An European Board for Media Services will be set up under the European Media Freedom Act. The Board will be comprised of national media authorities and supervise the application of the EU media law framework. 

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