PMA welcomes the historic agreement on EMFA

18th December 2023
European Media Freedom Act negotiations came to an end last week, introducing essential foundational measures for press freedom in Europe. 
European Commission
Row of EU Flags in front of the European Union Commission building in Brussels. Credit: VanderWolf Images /

The Public Media Alliance welcomes the recent deal on the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA). This agreement is a major step forward towards the safeguarding of press freedom in Europe, the independence of public service media, the protection of journalists and ultimately the betterment of informed democracy.

“This is a significant moment, which highlights the European community’s commitment to media freedom and independence, and the Public Media Alliance congratulates all of those involved in reaching this landmark agreement,” said Kristian Porter, the CEO of the Public Media Alliance.

“In imposing minimum standards over member states for how a government should interact with public service media, the European Media Freedom Act recognises the vital role that independent public service media plays in society. This agreement recognises that public service media – which adheres to democratic principles of accountability, transparency, and freedom of expression – are worthy of protection against those who seek to undermine their core values. It demonstrates an awareness that when such governments attempt to control, censor and undermine public service media, they are damaging democracy itself.”

Read more: PMA joins calls for effective safeguards for strong and independent public service media (Joint statement)

What is the European Media Freedom Act?

The EMFA aimed at safeguarding media freedom – has been provisionally agreed upon by the European Council and the European Parliament. These new rules were created to improve the protection of editorial independence, journalist safety, media pluralism, and ensure transparency and fairness. The creation of a new independent European Board for Media Services was also part of the agreement, to promote and coordinate the effective application of EU media regulations.

The EMFA came as a response to rising concerns over the politicisation of the media in Europe, the growing threats against journalists, and a lack of transparency of media ownership. This new set of laws was brought in to establish protective measures against political interference in editorial choices for both private and public service media providers. This included the safeguarding of journalists as well and their sources but also the protection of media freedom and pluralism.

“The EMFA ensures that [member states] must safeguard public service media’s editorial and functional independence. As governments come and go, public service media should not be caught up in political power struggles,” said Wouter Gekiere, the head of the EBU’s Brussels office. 

The compromised text has kept the ambitions and objectives of the Commission’s proposal, while aligning with existing European legislation, respecting national competences, and balancing harmonisation with national differences. The Act clarifies EU Member States’ responsibilities towards public media, makes the protection of journalists mandatory, limited coercive measures against journalists’ sources, aims to strengthen transparency requirements, and establishes clearer rules for the relationship between major online platforms and media providers.  

“The EMFA ensures that [member states] must safeguard public service media’s editorial and functional independence. As governments come and go, public service media should not be caught up in political power struggles.” – Wouter Gekiere, Head of EBU’s Brussels Office

The Act will also enable media providers to react quickly to the withdrawal of content by online platforms.  

The EMFA will also see the creation of a European Board for Media Services, which will replace the current regulators group (ERGA), with an expanded scope and stronger independence. It will be composed of national media authorities and will be tasked with supporting and advising the Commission on whether all member states are applying the EMFA and AVMSD provisions. 

Listen toour podcast

Uncovering and exploring the biggest
issues facing public media

Stormy negotiations

For more than a year, the draft law has been the subject of heated debate in Brussels and Strasbourg. One article has been at the heart of the tension; Article 4 which focused on the protection of journalistic sources. The protection of journalists’ sources is intended to encourage informers to provide journalists with important intelligence which they would not give without a commitment of confidentiality. 

Concerns were raised earlier this month by 17 media associations and institutes, including PMA, who stated that they were “deeply concerned about the chilling effect that could result if the final text sets conditions for the disclosure of sources that do not comply with international human rights standards”.

Concerns worsened a few days before the final negotiations, when an investigation revealed that some European governments, including France, Finland, Italy and Sweden were putting the agreement of the EMFA at risk, because of Article 4. Seven EU nations were maintaining a hard line on this law, stating that they refused to allow their national security issues to be endangered because of some exemptions – the surveillance of journalists and the protection of their sources.

“We fought hard to achieve this result, against states which attempted to include particularly repressive provisions.” – Maja Sever, European Federation of Journalists

Without the safeguarding of sources, journalists risk losing the trust they nurture with their informers and with it an important supply of information. The European Court of Human Rights saw this same practice of journalism as “one of the fundamental conditions of freedom of the press” and that without it “the vital public watchdog role of the press as guardian of the public sphere may be undermined”.

Article 4 is also seen as a response to reports of growing surveillance on journalists in recent years, which can lead to significant self-censorship.  Spying on journalists has been reported in Hungary and Greece, while the recent Pegasus spyware scandal revealed that the software was used against journalists in a number of other European Union countries.

But it seems that EU negotiators reached a deal to limit spying on journalists, and prohibiting member states from using coercive measures to obtain information about journalists’ sources or confidential communications, except in specified cases. Indeed, member states will be able to adopt stricter or more detailed rules than those outlined in relevant parts of the EMFA. 

The Vice-President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, welcomed the agreement, saying that “this paramount piece of legislation sets out clear principles and safeguards for media independence. The European Media Freedom Act makes sure that journalists are protected in their work, also against intrusive spyware and that public media does not become a propaganda tool of one party.” 

How was it received?

The deal made on the 15 December 2023 was warmly applauded by media organisations and defenders. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called it a major victory for press freedom in Europe, one that will reinforce editorial independence, curb political and economic interference, and limit the dangers from the concentration of media ownership.  

News Media Europe also saluted the reach of a deal. Its director Wout van Wijk said that “Spying on journalists and media companies is and will never be okay. The media community has been heard, and we acknowledge efforts from EU negotiators to strictly frame derogations.”   

Maja Sever, President of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) acclaimed the deal by saying that “This provisional agreement is historic (…) We fought hard to achieve this result, against states which attempted to include particularly repressive provisions.” 

What comes next?

The European Council and the European Parliament are required to officially approve the provisional agreement from 15 December, once the text is finalised at the technical level. Then, the EMFA will be formally adopted in the spring of 2024.  

In response to the end of the negotiations, the European Broadcast Union said the EMFA’s goal of shielding the media and journalists from undue influence and interference is noble, but time will only tell if the text passed will help achieve it.