As the negotiations on the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) are drawing to a close, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) today co-signed a letter to the policymakers calling for international standards to be respected on the protection of journalistic sources (Article 4).
Considered a basic condition for press freedom by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the protection of sources risks being weakened by EU Member States. The signatories are deeply concerned about the chilling effect that could ensue if the final text maintains the paragraph to the national security responsibilities of Member States and sets conditions for disclosure of sources.
In September 2023, 500 journalists signed a letter urging the European Parliament to introduce an absolute ban on the surveillance of journalists through spyware. While extensive safeguards on the conditions under which surveillance might be permissible were added by the European Parliament, including a requirement ex-ante for independent judicial approval, the Council of the EU required that EU provisions protecting journalists are “without prejudice to the responsibility of member states to safeguard national security.”
The letter reads: “Therefore, we call for your support in adopting robust wording in the final version of the EMFA that would ensure a high level of journalistic protection and recognise the conditions under the ECHR and case-law under which interferences with journalists’ freedoms can be justified, in particular the requirement of a prior order by an independent and impartial judicial authority. Crucially, the same conditions apply in case of interferences on the grounds of national security.”
EFJ President Maja Sever said: “For journalists, Article 4 is the most important article with the original idea to protect journalists’ sources and give legal certainty to journalists and media. Why put the national security clause in an Act to protect media freedom, when we all know that national security is dealt with at the national level? This is an illiberal approach.”
While yesterday’s trilogue meeting between the European Parliament and the Council with the European Commission as an ‘honest broker’ reached almost an agreement on all the other articles, the next trilogue negotiation will take place on 15 December and will focus on the most controversial article 4. It should result in a political agreement between the three EU institutions.