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Using spyware against journalists.

Governments can use spyware against journalists as “last resort” EU parliament says

Governments in the EU should in exceptional cases be allowed to use spyware for surveillance of journalists. This may only be justified as a ‘last resort’ measure, on a case-by-case basis, and if ordered by an independent judicial authority to investigate a serious crime, such as terrorism or human trafficking, the European Parliament decided when voting on the European Media Freedom Act. An proposal to stop this right to surveil journalists failed. 

The European Media Freedom Act was adopted by 448 votes in favour, 102 against and 75 abstentions. Next step is that the Parliament negotiates with governments in the European Council on the final shape of the law.

“As strong as the legal safeguards are going to be, they are never going to be strong enough because that is what experience tells us, there are many examples across Europe where rights are abused,” Chloé Berthélémy told the Guardian. She is a senior policy adviser at European Digital Rights, an association of civil and human rights organisations.

“It is going to be hard now to change this. Getting a full ban on spyware is basically dead now,” she said. “The European parliament missed a unique opportunity to protect journalists against abusive state surveillance using nefarious spying tools. Recent scandals in France involving the surveillance and prosecution of several investigative journalists are a foretaste of future abuses across the EU.”

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The Parliament wants all media, including micro-enterprises, to publish information on their ownership structure.

Members also want media, including online platforms and search engines, to report on funds they receive from state advertising and on state financial support. This includes funds from non-EU countries.

Member states have to ensure that public media have adequate, sustainable and predictable funding allocated via multiannual budgets, MEPs say.

To ensure media outlets do not become dependent on state advertising, they propose a cap on public advertising allocated to a single media provider, online platform or a search engine at 15% of the total advertising budget allocated by that authority in a given EU country. MEPs want the criteria for allocating public funds to media to be publicly available.

Parliament also wants the proposed European Board for Media Services – a new EU body to be created via the Media Freedom Act– to be legally and functionally independent from the Commission and able to act independently from it. MEPs also push for an independent “expert group”, representing the media sector and civil society, to advise this new Board.

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