New EU Media Freedom Act will fight against rise of misinformation and protect Irish journalists – MEP Maria Walsh

The European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), passed by the European Parliament today, will fight against the rise of misinformation, promote media diversity and protect journalists’ rights in Ireland, Fine Gael MEP Maria Walsh has said. 

The EMFA is a historic piece of legislation, as it will set the first ever EU-level rules on media freedom, pluralism and the protection of journalists. MEP Walsh is the only Irish MEP on the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education (CULT), the Committee responsible for the Act. 

Less than half (47%) of Irish news consumers agree that they can trust most of the news most of the time, while only 45% of EU citizens believe that their country’s media provide information free from political or commercial pressure. 

MEP Maria Walsh said: 

“While we enjoy a free and independent media in Ireland, we cannot take it for granted – nor can we threaten it. The reality is that we have recently seen a rise in lawsuits brought against Irish journalists, including by prominent political leaders, which has been criticised by organisations including Reporters Without Borders, Index on Censorship, and the European Federation of Journalists. 

“At a time where journalists are facing prosecution, and trust in our public broadcaster has plummeted, we must prioritise legislation that protects our free and independent media. The European Media Freedom Act is designed to do just that, and will have several practical implications for Irish journalists and media outlets. 

“Firstly, the Act will increase media transparency for Irish viewers, listeners and readers. Citizens across Europe are concerned about the impact of political bias in the media, which is a critical issue in a year where around 1.5 billion people will be going to the polls. 

All public authorities will now have to publish information about their advertising expenditure, including online advertising. All media will have to make information on their ownership structures easily available on a national database, and the Irish Government will have a responsibility to ensure that citizens have access to a variety of editorially independent media content.

“Secondly, the Act will increase protections for journalists. It prohibits Member States from obliging journalists to identify their sources, or from deploying spyware on their devices when pursuing legitimate journalistic activities. 

“Thirdly, the Act tackles the impact of social media platforms on the news cycle by preventing outlets such as Facebook, X and Instagram from arbitrarily restricting or deleting independent media content. 

“The Act also addresses public service media, of particular relevance to Ireland given the recent RTÉ crisis. The EMFA states that public service media outlets should receive stable and adequate funding to ensure editorial independence. It also stipulates that the Head and Governing Board of public media outlets must be appointed in a transparent, open and non-discriminatory manner.”