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EU countries back draft media rules, publishers want easier merger provisions

EU countries on Wednesday agreed to draft media rules aimed at safeguarding editorial independence, prompting publishers to complain that governments did not do enough to boost consolidation so media companies could compete with Big Tech.

The European Commission produced the Media Freedom Act (MFA) last year to prevent political interference in media outlets and spying on journalists and to ensure transparent and non-discriminatory state advertising.

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EU countries and EU lawmakers are due to negotiate the act with the commission in the coming months before it can become final legislation.

EU countries met on Wednesday to agree a common position. They backed a key provision in the commission draft that requires media groups acquiring smaller rivals to make sure that the deals ensure media pluralism and protect editorial independence.

Trade body News Media Europe criticised this stand, saying it did not facilitate mergers and acquisitions that would help media outlets compete against big technology companies.

“The mandate does not facilitate media consolidation in challenging times, whereas scale is necessary to compete with Big Tech,” it said in a statement.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) found fault with the EU countries’ agreement to allow authorities to use intrusive surveillance software against journalists if it is justified by public interest and provided for in national law.

“We see dangerous loopholes that refer to national security, which can put journalists and their sources at risk,” the EBU said in a statement.

News Media Europe was equally scathing.

“While we welcome safeguards against political interference – including from third country actors – and for the protection of journalistic sources, using ‘national security’ and ‘public interest’ exceptions to spy on news media professionals is simply unacceptable and undermines press freedom,” it said. Reuters

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