BLOG published on 14 Dec 2020

New EU policies on platforms will shape the next chapter of the internet

The European Union is in the midst of launching new policies that will shape the next chapter of the internet. The Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA) will be published this week, joining the recent launch of the European Democracy Action Plan.  This next chapter aims to change the concentration of power in our online environment, providing a better framework for innovation, fair competition, opinion-making, free speech and ultimately democracy.

 

We have arrived at a point where largely unregulated global online platforms wield enormous power to influence democracies and economies. That influence can be positive, but it is increasingly negative - inflicting lasting damage on our societies and economies. Online platforms influence opinion, censor accurate information while amplifying disinformation, and have too much control of the online marketplaces that are vital for economic growth. This can all turn people away from digitization. As European Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager has said: successful digitization relies on trust and the less people know and understand about platforms’ the more their trust in digitization wavers. 

As media we see the worrying impact of certain unregulated behaviours of global online platforms on the trusted news and information and the rich plurality of views that we provide to our audiences across the globe. EBU has been actively advocating our views on regulation of platforms to EU decision makers. Just last month public and private broadcasters came together and issued a joint statement on expectations for the DSA and DMA.   

Two of the main architects of the EU’s policies on platforms, European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová and Commissioner Thierry Breton recently declared “When media are in trouble, so are our democracies”.  If we are to protect Europe’s proud tradition of a free and independent media – a pillar of a healthy democracy - there are several areas for which the new flagship Acts need to deliver robust regulation. Here are the critical matters for the Digital Services Act:

  • Online platforms frequently - and without warning or explanation - take down services and fully legal content items from media providers. Platforms must be required to respect media’s editorial freedom and integrity
  • Platforms have not provided adequate visibility or prominence to media content of general interest – such content can be buried and hard to find and platforms do not clearly brand such content or attribute it to its source; 
  • Another big concern for all of us is illegal and harmful content online. Media editors and journalists frequently encounter it and see it as their duty to report it. Yet platforms do not take enough responsibility for preventing and removing it.  Self-regulation has not worked so platforms must now be obliged to act responsibly;
  • Platforms’ algorithmic recommendation systems very often give preference to their own services or services from partners and users lack transparency and the tools that would empower them to understand and account for such practices.

Many of the access points for broadcasters’ digital content are through platforms - search engines, social networks, smart devices (including smart speakers and voice assistants), app stores and their operating systems. Platforms, however, assume the role of gatekeeper and engage in unfair practices  and the Digital Markets Act must lead to rules that change this:

  • New rules should tackle platforms’ superior bargaining power which prevents business users, including media, from negotiating with them on an equal basis. Users have to deal with an unfair “take it or leave it” approach;
  • The rules must also prevent preferential treatment of platforms’ own services so that, for example, news from other sources can be more easily accessed;
  • We expect the DMA to set out clear transparency requirements regarding ranking;
  • Finally, the DMA should deliver specific obligations to ensure that media organizations have access to the data related to their own content and services that appear on platforms. 

We commend the European Commission for the commitment to taking a rigorous approach to platforms. But the devil will be in the detail. The DSA and the DMA will have a heavily debated journey through the legislative process. Coming up with effective rules will take time. The EBU will keep a strong focus on advocating for the best possible outcomes for a thriving and sustainable Public Service Media. 

 

Contact detail

Wouter Gekiere
Head of Brussels Office
+32 2 286 91 12
gekiere@ebu.ch