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Reflecting on a Journey: History of the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA)

22. March 2024

In light of the recent adoption of the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) by the European Parliament, it’s worth reflecting on the journey that led to its creation and considering what are the next steps.


The European Commission (EC) has not had many available instruments or legal frameworks to act on matters related to media freedom. While individual Member States address pluralism and media freedoms in their national legislation, media freedom has not been given an effective legal framework of its own at the EU level – until now. As an area usually reserved to the authority of Member States, who are required to comply with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the effectiveness of the mechanisms in place to ensure their compliance has proven inadequate (see, for instance, the application of Article 7 in the EU Treaties for the case of Poland and Hungary).

Initial call for action

Matters relating to the media have traditionally been the competence of member states, however, but, such is the threat posed to media freedom that an EU-wide action has become necessary to protect Europe’s democratic values. Therefore, on 16 September 2022, the European Commission published the proposal for a regulation “establishing a common framework for media services in the internal market (European Media Freedom Act – EMFA) and amending Directive 2010/13/EU” (the Audiovisual Media Services Directive). The Global Forum for Media Development issued a joint statement together with journalists, media freedom, and human rights organisations in welcoming the European Commission’s European Media Freedom Act, an initiative to strengthen the free and pluralistic media system and the commitment to protect journalists and editorial independence within the European Union.  The EMFA has identified many of the key issues where the EU and member states must urgently act in order to protect media freedoms.

Development and Drafting

In 2023, the European Commission opened the feedback period on the European Media Freedom Act. The results of this consultation were presented to the European Parliament and the Council, contributing to the legislative debate.

This regulation was about to create the first European legal framework to protect journalists and media service providers from intrusive surveillance technologies. In line with this, in September 2023 GFMD joined 79 media, journalists, and human and digital rights organisations that are calling on MEPs in an open letter to ensure that the regulation achieves what it set out to do by including a full ban on the use of spyware against journalists.

Despite the ongoing challenges, the collaborative efforts of the European Federation of Journalists and other organisations within the EU Media Advocacy Working Group have been commendable. Over the past two years, the EU Media Advocacy Working Group, spearheaded by GFMD, has actively engaged in influencing and refining the proposed legislation. Regular meetings, both online and in-person, have fostered a positive atmosphere of collaboration, allowing diverse organisations to work transparently towards common goals. The collective efforts of the working group stand as a testament to the power of collaboration in safeguarding media freedom. As the final negotiations approached, organisations involved remained steadfast in their commitment to ensuring that the European Media Freedom Act reflected the principles of protecting journalists, limiting spyware use, and promoting transparent and sustainable funding for public service media.


EMFA is adopted

European Parliament’s voting for the EMFA

On March 13, 2024, the EMFA was adopted by the European Parliament, with an overwhelming majority, receiving 464 votes in favour, 92 against, and 65 abstentions. Once officially adopted and published in the Official Journal of the European Union, the Regulation will be binding in its entirety; it will be applicable in all Member States after 15 months. However, some specific provisions will have a different date of entry into application, for instance: 12 months as regards the provisions on regulatory cooperation between media regulators and 36 months regarding the customisation right.

“It’s been quite a journey for the more than 20 organisations involved, with frustrations, disagreements but a common goal that kept us working together: strengthening media freedom in the EU. Collaboration was key. Each organisation, in our different capacities and levels of involvement, contributed with their unique insights and expertise to build our collective knowledge to advocate through the EMFA legislative process. This collaborative space allowed us to address the EMFA’s complexities from multiple angles, but also, in presenting a united front, highlighted not only our commitment to safeguard press freedom in Europe but also made us a collective voice worth being heard and taken seriously in the political arena. And this is not the end of the journey as we will continue working together to ensure an effective implementation. We must ensure EMFA fulfils its goal,” noted Laura Becana Ball, GFMD’s Advocacy and Policy Manager and coordinator of the EU Media Advocacy Group

Laura Becana Ball (second from left) discussing EMFA at the “Monitoring Mediascapes for Democratic Communication in Europe: Meet the challenges of an election year” conference, February 2024


“The EMFA is revolutionary and almost a miracle, it took nearly 30 years to make it a reality. We have 27 different media systems, and we need a common framework to ensure they operate in the interest of citizens,” said CMPF Director Pier Luigi Parcu at the European Festival of Journalism and Media Literacy.

The EMFA will oblige EU governments to better protect media against malign interference and limit the use of spyware against journalists. Outlets will also have to transparently disclose information about ownership, funding and state advertising. In the age of increased authoritarianism, capture of media space, misinformation and disinformation, the European Media Freedom Act is a rare legislation that is looking at measures to promote and preserve freedom of expression and media pluralism, which are key for democratic systems to survive.

“While facing unprecedented attacks on journalists and recognizing the growing threats to media freedom, the EMFA emerges as a critical initiative. Collaboratively developed with input from civil society, Media Freedom organisations, the European Broadcasting Union, and digital rights groups, the EMFA aims to establish minimum principle-based regulations. These regulations include protecting journalists’ sources, limiting spyware use, ensuring non-political public service media, and enhancing transparency in media ownership, marking a significant step towards safeguarding the foundations of a free press,” noted Renate Schroeder, Director of the EFJ, during the GFMD’s End-of-Year Town Hall.

What’s next?

GFMD continues to facilitate a subgroup on the EMFA, inside the EU Media Advocacy Working Group – an informal network for organisations within journalism support, media development, digital rights, media freedom, and wider democracy support communities conducting advocacy work within EU institutions on media-related issues.

The working group on EMFA has launched a joint letter calling for the effective implementation of the European Media Freedom Act. While the EMFA is setting a crucial baseline, the 21 organisations signing the letter call for further action from Member States, regulatory bodies and the Commission, urging them to strengthen safeguards for journalists’ rights and media pluralism beyond minimum standards and to collaborate closely with media and civil society stakeholders for the EMFA’s effective implementation. Undersigned organisations stand ready to support this effort to ensure a resilient press landscape across the EU.

The experience gained over the past years has deepened our understanding and improved our advocacy strategies. These insights have equipped us to overcome most of the challenges we may face in the future. Moving forward, collaboration remains essential as we navigate the complex and uncertain road ahead. Moreover, the strategies and lessons learned can serve as a valuable guide for future advocacy efforts, both regionally and locally.

If you would like to join the EU Media Advocacy Working Group or for more information, please contact us at advocacy@gfmd.info.


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