Three New European Union Laws May Limit Freedom of the Press

Journalists at the plenary session of the European Parliament, which passed the General Data Protection Regulation. (Flickr)

Europe’s journalists may be in serious trouble. A package of legislation was approved Thursday by the European Parliament, and it could severely limit freedom of the press in European Union nations. The General Data Protection Regulation, which was originally instated in 1995, has now been reformed by a number of provisions.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports:

[A]fter years of political battle, the European Parliament adopted the Passenger Name Record directive, the Data Protection Package, and the Trade Secrets Protection Act. The stakes were immense and the debates long and heated, leading to dissent and divisions within many political groups and campaigns about the potential impact from journalists.

Reports this week show that journalists in the EU cannot afford to think about press freedom in purely national terms anymore. Members of the press in member states are already facing challenges, with Germany considering using the law against insulting a country’s leader to bring charges against a TV comedian for allegedly insulting the Turkish president, and a photojournalist in Spain being fined €601 ($676) under the country’s so-called gag law last week after posting a photograph of a policeman making an arrest. In France, photojournalist Maya Vidon-White has been charged under a law that bans the publishing of photos showing victims of terror attack, according to Associated Reporters Abroad.

If the laws adopted today by the European Parliament, the legislative arm of the 28-member European Union, are fully incorporated or strictly interpreted, journalists might face further restrictions.

Just a few months ago, the European Parliament seemed close to adopting a Trade Secrets Directive that would have protected whistleblowers and journalists “who act in the public interest.” Since the Panama Papers leak, however, concerns arose over the rule. Some worried it potentially “allows companies too much leeway to hide information from the public and sue whistleblowers.” Thursday’s package of legislation was approved despite these concerns. Although the European Parliament claims the law will give citizens “more control over their own private information,” journalists fear that the package of reforms will limit freedom of press by “providing corporations with more tools to prosecute whistleblowers and investigative journalists.” It could also harm Internet companies who refuse government orders to remove content. “[T]he regulation is sweeping in its scope and powers and its approach to weighing free expression against privacy remains unbalanced,” a professor of journalism told CPJ.

The new legislation will not immediately take effect in member countries, however. “Today’s vote in the EU parliament was the last stage of the adoption process. The GDPR will now be transposed into the national laws of the bloc’s 28 Member States over the next two years, with the regulation set to come into force from 2018,” TechCrunch reports.

–Posted by Emma Niles

Emma Niles
Assistant Editor
Emma Niles, an assistant editor at Truthdig, graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a degree in political science. She has worked for the National Women’s Law Center and Ms. Magazine.…
Emma Niles

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