On Tuesday, October 26, 2021, the Committee on Culture and Education held a discussion on the state of media freedom with European Commissioner Vera Jourova on the state of media freedom. In her introductory speech, the Commissioner placed Slovenia alongside Poland and Hungary and expressed concern about “numerous attempts to undermine the sustainability and independence of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and public media service”. MEP Irena Joveva shares this concern and highlighted growing political pressure on the media in Slovenia. She named several proposals for legislative solutions that could help protect journalists and increase media freedom.

It was emphasized by the MEP at the beginning that the current pressure on the media was unprecedented. She cited the need for an Anti-SLAPP directive as well as discussion on so-called exceptions to the rules for editorial media that should not, in her view, apply equally to all media. Thus, Joveva proposed the use of delegated acts to waive the rules for those media with de facto editorial independence, which would also provide a view into the media itself.

Regarding the act or law on media freedom that is being prepared, she proposed harmonizing the rules and legislation of the Member States and establishing a common framework for public media at EU level that would also provide controls and binding safeguards to endure media freedom. She believes that the solution is to create new EU bodies or committees, made up of regulatory agencies for media supervision or representatives of the press. This would provide protection for the media when things go wrong, as it currently does in Slovenia with the STA (Slovenian Press Agency). Also, she stressed the issue of advertising transparency, especially in advertising transactions when state-owned companies or state funds are involved. She also called for the protection of private media from suspicious takeovers, such as TVN in Poland. She sees the solution in enhanced democratic control over all takeovers, which could also prevent the concentration of media ownership.

Commissioner Jourova also agrees, noting that ownership concentration is a broader media problem in the European Union (she cited the current French situation), especially now during the pandemic, when smaller media are financially weak. According to the commissioner, ownership has a significant influence on the way journalists write and report.

The MEP considers it most important to introduce rules to protect journalists from their owners, boards of directors from political parties and the public media from political interference. She is convinced that conditions must be created to protect journalists, as only then can they exercise the right to free speech. It is paramount that the European Union gains true strength in terms of media protection, otherwise it can only silently observe events like Slovenia, where democracy is on the biggest test, the MEP concluded.In her response, Commissioner Jourova expressed particular concern about state-funded media, citing the example of the KESMA Foundation in Hungary. Such pro-government media report only certain information and, as a result, have a key impact on the outcome of elections. Furthermore, they present a distorted picture of the state of democracy.

The Commissioner also emphasized the responsibility of the media as a whole, which should first “clean up its own mess”. If we are to protect the media sector and journalists, we must be sure we are defending professionals with high integrity who do their job in the interest of protecting objective facts, Jourova said. She added that there is a clear requirement for member states to provide funding for public service broadcasting, again pointing out Slovenia as an example. Transparency and disclosure of media ownership was also a topic discussed by the Commissioner, as she felt it is important for people to know who stands behind them.

You can watch the video with excerpts from the Commissioner’s introductory speech and MEP’s Irena Joveva’s questions and Vera Jourova’s answers below:

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