Regions and cities play a major role in regulating and supporting the media and cultural sectors in the EU. In order to ensure media freedom and pluralism, and to preserve the integrity of the European information space, they demand that the EU's intervention does not overlap with existing systems of media supervision and avoids any overregulation. Local leaders also call for a closer cooperation between media regulatory authorities and stress that the European Board for Media Services proposed by the European Commission must be protected against any political and business influence. These demands are included in the opinion on the European Media Freedom Act, led by Mark Speich (DE/EPP), which was adopted during the plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) on 16 March.
The European Media Freedom Act regulation, which is part of the European Commission's European Democracy Action Plan developed in 2020, is a response to concerns about political and economic pressures on media in the EU. It aims to provide further safeguards against political interference in editorial decisions, to increase transparency about media ownership, and to help ensure stable funding for public-service media.
The European Committee of the Regions fully shares the objectives of the proposal, but stresses that introducing a new regulation at EU level can cause negative effects of overregulation on the well-established media systems across the Member States in which media freedom and pluralism are ensured. The Committee emphasised therefore that a legal act of a Directive, instead of the Regulation, would better serve the subsidiarity, proportionality and multilevel governance principles. The independence of the European Union media ecosystems is exposed to various threats, which must be address by regulating systems through diversified approaches that cannot rely solely on the legal basis of EU's internal market competence. This holds particularly true as media services have an important function in the cultural sector, education and protection of freedom of expression.
Rapporteur Mark Speich (DE/EPP), State Secretary for Federal, European and International Affairs and Media of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, said: "It is extremely important that the CoR takes a position on behalf of European regions and municipalities on this far-reaching draft European Media Freedom Act. Democratic societies are based on media freedom and pluralism. The Commission's draft certainly pursues the right goal, but there is room for improvement in many areas. My opinion therefore contains a whole series of proposals for improvement. In particular, Europe should not replace the responsibility of the member States for the protection of freedom and plurality of the media, but rather support it."
CoR members highlighted that, in initiatives to safeguard media pluralism, the EU needs to avoid overlaps with existing systems of media supervision. It is, they argue, primarily the duty of Member States to guarantee media pluralism, coupled with ensuring the respect of the principles of independent media supervision free from political influence.
The European Commission presented its proposals for the European Media Freedom Act in September 2022. The Act aims at protecting media pluralism and independence in the EU single market, and sets safeguards to ensure greater independence, transparency and cooperation between media market operators. It thereby also makes it easier to develop their business across national borders within the single market.
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