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16 June, 2024
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EU's media law shift sparks concerns for journalists

Journalists' dilemma in the wake of EU Council's decision

George Kakouris

George Kakouris

It doesn't come as a shock that, in the debate over the European Media Freedom Act between EU Council member states and the European Parliament, the EU Council incorporated a paragraph into its negotiating stance, stating that national security should be an exception when prohibiting surveillance of journalists and related practices.

This reference, found in Article 4, paragraph 4, of the proposed legislation, was the focal point of discussions by Phileleftheros and other European media. As per published minutes and journalist Fani Makridis's report, the Cypriot side initially favored this exception within the Council but later maintained a neutral position.

MEPs involved in negotiations announced on Friday that the controversial reference had been removed from the agreed-upon text. According to the revised text, authorities are barred from interfering in decisions related to journalistic activities or attempting to disclose journalistic sources through monitoring software without prejudice to member states' responsibility to protect national security.

However, interference can occur through derogation on a case-by-case basis, based on an overriding reason of public interest, with the approval of a judicial authority.

The use of surveillance software must be justified for investigating serious crimes punishable by deprivation of liberty and regularly reviewed by judicial authorities. The post-agreement landscape significantly differs from the one Cyprus appeared to endorse, possibly due to political considerations within the Council or other factors.

The Council's statement highlighted that the compromise with Parliament prohibits member states from using coercive measures to disclose information about journalistic sources or confidential information, except in certain specified circumstances.

However, the recent reports are just a glimpse into a broader process aimed at ensuring media independence, transparency of ownership, and improved functioning of the media market.

The discussions underscore how even the best intentions in complex legislative processes at the EU level can be tainted by additions, footnotes, and asterisks, impacting areas not immediately visible.

This issue particularly concerns journalists in Cyprus, given the challenges the sector faces. Beyond the cliché, the health of journalism doesn't solely concern those in the profession; it crucially influences the flow of information in democracies and the overall health of political life.

We must view journalism not just emotionally but as a profession contributing to societal function. Journalists act as the guardians of democracy and the maintainers of the political system, not as priests.

President Christodoulides, addressing the issue for the first time, conveyed Cyprus' position on tightening regulations to Roberta Metsola, emphasizing there is no intention of monitoring. While a positive start, it's essential to scrutinize actions beyond goodwill phrases to ensure effective implementation.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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