EU member states agreed on Wednesday to a proposal for regulating media freedom.
The text aims to protect the pluralism and independence of media organisations, though certain provisions have been denounced as leaving the door open to spying on journalists.
The changes are necessary amid “increasing internal and external threats to the EU”, said Swedish Minister of Culture Parisa Liljestrand, whose country holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council.
Only Poland and Hungary voted against the measure, according to AFP.
Protecting the secrecy of journalistic sources from government and prohibiting the use of spyware are targeted in the regulations.
Several European countries, including Hungary, Poland and Greece, have been rocked by recent espionage scandals. Authorities in all three states have been accused of using spyware against journalists and political opponents.
But, compared to the initial proposal presented by the European Commission in September, the text approved on Wednesday widens the possibility of exceptions, surrounding the “protection of national security”.
These exceptions were made at the request of France, supported by several countries.
“The possibility of monitoring journalists in the name of national security [leaves] the door open to all abuses,” underlined Julie Majerczak, director of the RSF office in Brussels.
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), bringing together 71 trade unions and professional associations in 45 countries, also called the regulations a “blow to media freedom”.
“The addition of an exemption based on national security… puts journalists even more at risk and creates a chilling effect on whistleblowers and other sources,” Renate Schroeder director of the EFJ told AFP.
The European executive said it was delighted with the progress of the text, despite opposition.
European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova hailed the agreement by member states as “an important step forward towards the first European rules to protect media pluralism and freedom”.
The text will still have to be negotiated with the European Parliament.