HomeEuropeJourová calls for more tools to boost media freedom

Jourová calls for more tools to boost media freedom

The European Commission has limited powers to address media freedom fears — and wants new tools to act.

As members of the European Parliament debated the state of press freedoms in Hungary, Poland and Slovenia on Wednesday, the Commission signaled deep concern about recent developments.

Speaking to MEPs, Commission Vice President Věra Jourová ticked off myriad challenges she saw across Europe.

In Hungary, she said, the independent Klubrádió outlet lost its broadcasting license “based on grounds which have raised concerns.” In Poland, she pointed to “draft legislation on an advertising tax targeting media outlets.” And in Slovenia, she described “continuous attempts to undermine the sustainable funding and the independence of the national press agency, and frequent verbal attacks against journalists.”

But, she noted, Brussels’ ability to do something is constricted, limited to avenues such as the Commission’s rule-of-law report, which publicized these concerns, and several initiatives aimed at improving journalists’ safety and media’s economic standing.

“The reality is, as you know well, that the competences of the Commission when it comes to media are very limited,” Jourová told the MEPs. “Whilst we will use those competences in a very diligent manner, I want us to identify how we can widen and strengthen the toolbox that the Commission has — from financial support to regulation and enforcement actions.”

“We need a tool which recognizes the role of media as the key players in democratic society,” the vice president argued, adding that “at this moment, we only have the rules which recognize the role of the media as the actors on the European Single Market, and this is what is limiting our ability to act.”

Jourová said she will meet with fellow commissioners to discuss how to better finance media outlets, ensure reporters are protected and use competition policy to address mergers that limit media plurality.

But while the European Parliament debate underscored growing concerns about media freedom, it also highlighted political divisions and divergent views on what — and where — the problem lies.

Some members of the center-right European People’s Party group who participated in the discussion focused their comments on the situation in Poland — where the ruling party, Law and Justice, belongs to the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

“An attack on Polish independent media is an attack on us all, it is an attack on European values,” said Dutch MEP Jeroen Lenaers, a member of the Christian Democratic Appeal, part of the EPP.

Many members of liberal, left-wing and Green groups, meanwhile, pointed to worries about the press in other countries as well.

German MEP Birgit Sippel, a member of the Social Democratic Party, said that Poland’s government appears to want to “silence” the critical press, but also pointed to Klubrádió losing its license in Hungary and “threats” from Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša against journalists.

French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, who serves as the Parliament’s rapporteur on the rule-of-law situation in Hungary, said “the obituary of independent media in Hungary is getting longer every year.”

But members from Janša’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) — an EPP member — as well as Poland’s Law and Justice party and Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party — which is non-attached after quitting the EPP — dismissed the debate’s premise.

Romana Tomc, a member of Janša’s SDS, said that “the government is not really limiting anyone” and invited Jourová to visit Slovenia to see how the media works.

“You should not organize such debates,” said Law and Justice MEP Beata Szydło, a former Polish prime minister. “This debate is disinformation and fake news.”



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