European Parliament to tighten rules to protect journalists and media outlets

European Parliament to tighten rules to protect journalists and media outlets
State media have become a mouthpiece of the government since Orban took power. / bne IntelliNews
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest October 5, 2023

The European Parliament on October 4 approved the European Media Freedom Act, which is aimed at guaranteeing greater press freedom in the member states and limiting distorting state advertising.  The legislation aims to ensure media plurality and protect media independence from governmental, political, economic or private interference.

The bill was approved with an overwhelming majority, 448 in favour, 102 against and  75 abstained.

Speaking to Politico after the vote, European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova said media law will be "a major warning signal" for EU countries and could well turn into a thorn in the side of the Hungarian leader Viktor Orban

"We cannot unscramble the scrambled eggs [in Hungary],"  Jourova said, in a country "where everything and everybody is dependent on one party", where "there is no public media but state media" and where "the difference between supporting a media economically in a transparent way and a corrupted media in a hidden way is big".

Under Viktor Orban’s 13-year rule, Hungary's media landscape changed dramatically since 2010  and this came in parallel with the decline of media freedom and the country’s fall in various rankings measuring press freedom rankings.

With the government’s help, 500 pro-government media outlets owned formerly by the prime minister’s cronies were concentrated in a foundation (KESMA)

The media conglomerate operates with vast financial state funding, as advertising revenues favour pro-government outlets. Independent media maintain strong positions in other segments of the national market but are threatened by the discriminatory allocation of state funding.

State media has always been a battleground of parties, but it became a mouthpiece of the government after Orban’s second supermajority in 2014. The news departments, from TV to radio to the national news agency (MTI), have been perfectly subjugated by the government in recent years, with content often aligned with the government’s political interests.

During the last election, the opposition’s joint prime minister was given five minutes of airtime in the campaign.

To assess media independence, Parliament wants to oblige 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.

The bill proposes imposing a limit on the share of public advertising that can be allocated to a single media provider, online platform, or search engine within an EU member state, capping it at 15% of the total advertising budget allocated by the respective authority. MEPs advocate for full transparency in the criteria used for distributing public funds to media organisations, making these criteria publicly accessible.

A new independent EU body, the European Board for Media Services, would be created. MEPs also push for an independent "expert group", representing the media sector and civil society, to advise the board.

The EP will kick off negotiations with the European Council on the legislation.