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4 Jul, 2023 14:53

The dystopian European Media Freedom Act is a Trojan horse

Codifying the most basic rights – like a free press – is a pretty good indication that someone wants to mess with them
The dystopian European Media Freedom Act is a Trojan horse

How on earth did media freedom in the EU survive up to this point without the big-brained Brussels bureaucrats protecting it? 

Does the average media consumer ever ask themselves, “Am I more or less informed now that the establishment claims to be working to actively protect me?” The list of websites that require a VPN pointed at a country outside of the European Union has never been so long. 

So pardon my skepticism over the notion that the same folks responsible for this information crackdown are positioning themselves as protectors of the free press, and persist unabated in multiplying their efforts.

EU officials are on the verge of approving a new “European Media Freedom Act,” promoted as a new law to protect journalists, their freedom, and press pluralism.  However, any thinking person might start by asking how exactly that squares with the bloc’s top-down censorship of voices published on platforms that counter their establishment narratives, like RT for instance. They cite the Ukraine conflict as justification, but they were looking for an excuse long beforehand. Rather than leave it to individual national media regulators to do their job, and cite any specific offenses or evidence, these big fans of free press and democracy at the EU just blocked them unilaterally.

So, these same folks are now in the process of fine-tuning a law designed to “promote internal safeguards on editorial independence and media ownership transparency” – which the EU has never been too interested in fostering when it comes to the NGOs and press outlets it supports.  

They also plan to introduce measures that include the protection of journalists from spyware. But in even bringing spyware up, there’s now a risk of official codification of its use by governments against journalists in some instances – something which has, until now, been frowned upon. Once again, as with “anti-Russian” sanctions and cutting off its own cheap Russian energy supply, the EU has found a way to really stick it to itself and is on the verge of achieving precisely the opposite of its stated intentions.  

Governments like France are now reportedly requesting specific, codified exemptions to the state use of surveillance software targeting journalists in cases where they might be dealing with sources or evidence involving “national security” offenses or other heavy crimes that risk bringing down governments like… music piracy. Right – because “national security” has never been abused as a pretext for Western authorities to protect their own interests from dissent. And we’re talking here about suspected crimes, so is a mere hunch enough to tap a journalist’s phone?

The exemption request should also raise eyebrows about what these governments are already doing under the guise of national security to the point where clearly they believe they’re on the verge of losing something.

Various French journalists, for example, have taken issue in the past with being spied on by French intelligence or police. And to make it even easier, a French parliamentary commission even voted recently to allow remote activation and geolocation of a target’s tech devices. Revelations about the use of Israeli Pegasus spyware by governments such as Morocco's, to target French journalists, raises other potential problems. For example, what power would the EU even have over foreign countries if, say, an EU member state decided to outsource surveillance to a non-bloc country – let alone ever know which state gave the order to do so?  

Including any exemptions whatsoever to spyware use by EU member states not only defeats the whole stated purpose of the legislation, but also greatly reduces the chances that sources will talk to or trust the press. It effectively turns every journalist into an inadvertent direct pipeline of information to the authorities – which they may have been before, but now this new law confirms it, serving as a Vegas-style billboard for that fact.

Who in their right mind is going to call out wrongdoing by powerful state actors when a murky pretext can theoretically be evoked by the same state to neutralize the whistleblower and their story before it can do any damage to the establishment? This seems to be yet another case of the EU proposing a media-related law under the pretext of protecting information and speech, while in reality the big beneficiary is the status quo.

It wouldn’t be the first time either. Back in 2018, the EU decided to address the public demand for media control with a revised audiovisual media services directive. The main thrust was to reel in the digital online Wild West, bringing it under control of audiovisual regulation. Seemed innocent enough, right? Brussels apparently took the collective public shrug as a sign of encouragement. Since then, several other measures have been introduced, all suggestive of the protectionist role that the EU has routinely attempted to convey to Europeans in an attempt to justify its own existence.  

The Digital Services Act is supposed to “ensure a safe and accountable online environment,” according to EU literature. When Twitter owner Elon Musk pulled the platform from the currently voluntary compliance with moderation and content control measures, EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton tweeted, “You can run, but you can’t hide.” Which totally doesn’t sound controlling, or the opposite of the kind of freedom that the EU constantly purports to defend.

According to EU code, tech platforms like Twitter are connected with “fact-checkers, civil society, and third-party organizations with specific expertise on disinformation.” In other words, avid gatekeepers of the establishment narrative. And on August 25th, adherence will no longer be voluntary.  

The EU should consider getting out of the control freak business if it truly wants to help the European free press. Maybe then, journalists here in Europe trying our best to fully inform our audiences against information barriers created by Brussels won’t have to redirect our internet connections to places like Vietnam, Mexico, Turkey, or Brazil in order to access information and sources that the EU doesn’t like.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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