On 23 April, EU institutions reached a provisional agreement on the Digital Services Act (DSA). 20 years after the adoption of the eCommerce Directive, Europe is now a step closer to updating its legal framework governing online platforms.
Wouter Gekiere, Head of the European Broadcasting Union’s Brussels Office, said: “This deal is a crucial step towards ensuring more transparency, safety, and accountability for Internet users. With the DSA, Europe is setting a global standard for how online platforms must behave in the future. We particularly welcome the obligations on online platforms to shed light on the recommender systems they use to rank and prioritize content on their services. The Act will thus enable content producers, such as public service media, to better understand the parameters affecting the visibility of their content on third-party platforms.”
However, the final agreement does not sufficiently reflect the considerable influence of online platforms on access to information and on opinion-making. Against our expectations, the Regulation will fall short in equipping public service media with the necessary tools to react to and challenge unfair and arbitrary decisions by platform operators with regards to their content. The complaint procedures foreseen in the DSA will unfortunately take too much time should platforms erroneously block entire apps or accounts from media or remove editorial content, in particular time sensitive content like news or current affairs programmes. Public service media and other media operators need well-functioning, direct communication channels with platform operators to resolve any conflict as quick as possible.
Some of the DSA’s transparency provisions are limited in scope, notably in regards to the brand attribution rule, which public service media advocated for. When users access media content through social networks, news aggregators, or search engines, they should be able to easily identify who bears the editorial responsibility. Failure by platforms to attribute content to its source deprives audiences of an essential element to judge the information they see and hear. According to the provisional agreement, only online marketplaces will have to fulfill this important requirement.
We are now looking to the upcoming European Media Freedom Act and are hopeful that lawmakers will do their utmost to address the impact of online platforms on freedom of expression, media freedom and pluralism, as well as the ability of citizens to easily access and find media services of general interest.
Following the political agreement, the legal text still must be finalized at technical level and approved by both the European Parliament and the Council.