© Reuters. European Union countries flags are seen without the British flag at European Union Council in Brussels, Belgium January 31, 2020. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via Reuters
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union wants to enact tougher rules for media groups seeking to acquire smaller rivals on whether their deals ensure media pluralism and safeguard editorial independence, according to draft EU rules seen by Reuters.
The Media Freedom Act (MFA), which the European Commission will present later this week, comes during concerns about media freedom in Poland, Hungary and Slovenia. The EU is also worried about the allocation of some countries’ state advertising to pro-government outlets to influence the media.
The rules will apply to TV and radio broadcasters, on-demand audiovisual media services, press publications and very large online platforms and providers of video-sharing platforms.
They will need to be thrashed out with EU countries and lawmakers before they can become law in a process likely to take a year or more.
The concerns around media freedoms have grown ahead of European Parliament elections in 2024.
“It should be considered whether other media outlets, providing different and alternative content, would still coexist in the given market(s) after the media market concentration in question,” the document said. Editorial independence safeguards should consider undue interference by owners, management or governance structures, it added.
The proposed rules also require regulators to examine whether the merging companies would remain economically sustainable if there was no deal.
The EU executive and a new European Board for Media Services can offer their opinions on whether the two criteria have been met.
State advertising to media service providers should be transparent and non-discriminatory, the document said.
The proposed rules set out the right of journalists and media service providers not to be detained, sanctioned, subjected to surveillance or search and seizure by EU governments and regulatory bodies.