In a contentious turn, EU leaders have unveiled draft legislation permitting national security agencies to deploy spyware on journalists’ phones in certain circumstances. The move has obviously triggered an outcry from media and civil society organizations, who argue that the draft European Media Freedom Act could be a perilous weapon against the press.
Sophie in’t Veld, a Dutch Member of the European Parliament (MEP) who has been integral in the European Parliament’s inquiry into the use of Pegasus spyware against journalists and prominent figures, termed the reasoning behind the draft as mendacious. “I think what the council is doing is unacceptable. It’s also incomprehensible. Well, it’s incomprehensible if they are serious about democracy,” in’t Veld remarked.
A striking aspect of the draft’s release was the absence of an in-person meeting involving ministers in charge of media affairs, which typically precedes such announcements.
Initially aimed at bolstering the independence of journalism in countries where it faces significant challenges, like Poland and Hungary, the act’s original version included robust defenses against spyware usage. However, under France’s initiative, an alteration was accepted which permits the safeguarding of journalists, but not at the expense of “member states’ responsibility for safeguarding national security,” The Guardian reported.
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), an organization representing over 300,000 journalists across 45 nations, lashed out against the EU leaders, accusing them of having a “dangerous disregard” for media freedom. They cautioned that empowering governments to install spyware on journalists’ phones in the name of “national security” could be detrimental to the protection of sources, especially whistleblowers. “We know too well how the defense of national security is misused to justify media freedom violations,” the EFJ stated, urging the European Parliament to rescue the legislation from this potential menace.
Furthermore, as the draft law stands, EU member states would be allowed to infiltrate journalists’ phones if they conjecture that their sources might be in cahoots with entities considered threatening.