Brussels intends to impose total transparency on the institutional advertising distribution and on the functioning of the different audience measurement systems in order to guarantee fair competition between media of communication in the EU. This is one of the central pillars of the Media Freedom Act proposed this Friday by the European Commission, whose objective is to strengthen pluralism and editorial independence in public media. The norm still has to be discussed and approved both by the European Parliament and by the European governments.
Why has the Community Executive decided to intervene in this sector? The vice president of the Commission responsible for Values and Transparency, the Czech Vera Jourovahas drawn a very pessimistic picture of the situation of the media in Europe, pointing in particular to Poland and Hungary. “We’re seeing many worrying trends, not just affecting one or two countries. There are journalists who have been killed for doing their work on European soil, others have been spied on,” she recounted.
“Public media are subject to political pressure. Institutional advertising is used covertly to support certain media outlets over others. In some countries it is difficult to know who owns the media. Excessive concentration poses risks to press freedom and pluralism. The digital transition and the growing power of social networks weaken the position of the media. Russia’s war against Ukraine has also underscored the need for coordinated action against foreign interference.”
In matters of institutional advertisingthe new Freedom of the Press Law will require that the distribution between the means is carried out in a “transparent, objective, proportionate and non-discriminatory“. This obligation affects not only national authorities, but also regional governments and municipalities with more than 1 million inhabitants, as well as public companies.
“The objective is to minimize the risks that public funds and other state resources are used to serve partisan interests, as well as promoting fair competition in the single media market“, argues the Community Executive. “Institutional advertising is an important source of income in the media sector, and market players should benefit from equal opportunities to access it,” he adds.
Public authorities and state-owned companies will have to annually publish information about their advertising spendingwhich will have to include the names of the beneficiary media and the amounts spent (both the annual amount and the amount for each media outlet).
Refering to audience measurementthe regulation requires companies in the sector to provide both the media and advertisers with detailed information on the methodology used. National regulators should encourage the development of codes of conduct among providers of audience measurement tools in order to improve “transparency, inclusion and non-discrimination”.
Brussels maintains that audience measurement is of key importance to media and advertising ecosystems. It helps in the calculation of advertising prices and, therefore, in the allocation of advertising revenue and the planning, production or distribution of content by the media.
“With the new audience measurement rules, media companies will be able to benefit from fair competition and a better return on investment in the digital environment“, claims the European Commission.
The Law prohibits the use of spy software (spyware) against journalists and their families. This is the rule. The rule limits the possible exceptions for reasons of national security, which is the responsibility of the Member States; or in the case of investigations of a closed list of crimes, such as terrorism, child abuse or murder.
The media will be obliged to make public who owns it. In the Member States where there are public means, its financing must be adequate and stable, in order to guarantee its editorial independence. Its director and board of directors will have to be appointed in a transparent, open and non-discriminatory way to prevent them from becoming organs of government propaganda.
The Freedom of the Media Act requires member states to assess the impact of mergers on pluralism and editorial independence. It also requires that any legislative, regulatory or administrative measure adopted by a Member State that may affect the media be duly justified and proportionate. A European Media Council is created, made up of national officials in the matter, which will supervise the application of the norm and will issue opinions.
Finally, the standard includes safeguards against unjustified removal by major media content platforms communications produced in accordance with professional standards. The platforms must inform the media of the reasons for the elimination and examine, as a priority, the protest resources that they present.
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