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The EU has been working on new legislation, the Digital Services Act (DSA), that has the potential to become a new gold standard in how platforms are regulated. To be effective, the DSA must recognize the power that online platforms have to select and promote content to people and set rules around appropriate platform behaviour.
As the EBU, we can’t stress enough just how important third-party platforms have become for our Members, to share their news and editorial content online. In fact, recent EBU research shows that 100% of the 50 public service media organizations surveyed find the use of social networks either important or very important, highlighting the crucial role that platforms play towards media.
As the DSA has entered its final stage of negotiation, we feel that now is the time for a final push to allow the legislation to achieve its objective of creating a safer, more transparent and accountable online environment. How can we do this?
Make platforms accountable to media freedom and media standards
Until now, global online platforms have moderated editorial content and services based on their own (unilaterally imposed) terms and conditions. This has meant removing individual pieces of content, blocking whole business accounts and setting limitations to access content and services on a whim. Meaning, they have become a serious blockage to the editorial reach of public service media, who, as we see above, depend on these platforms. We don’t see the corner news agent cutting out articles they don’t like at the newsstand, so why should this be allowed online? The DSA will set minimum requirements on how online platforms should draft and apply their terms and conditions. The final text must contain, at the very least, respect for media freedom and rules applicable to Europe’s media, as rightly put forward by the European Parliament . The DSA would not be complete without putting in place specific procedures and direct communication channels that allow media organizations to swiftly react to the arbitrary removal of content.
Increase online safety and transparency
Online platforms control who sees what online, so it is essential that they adhere to basic transparency requirements. For example, when users search for content via voice assistants, there are ‘recommender systems’ behind the results provided by the voice assistant. How these results are selected needs to be clearer to both the user and publisher. Ensuring proper brand attribution helps users understand where content, services and products are coming from. They help users make informed decisions on what to believe or purchase online and discourage illegal activity. For now, the farthest that the latest DSA proposal goes is to only oblige brand attribution in online marketplaces, which we feel falls short of the mark.
Ensure that secure sector-specific laws and Member States’ prerogative are not compromised
The DSA will be a broad-reaching set of horizontal rules, but these must not affect sector-specific EU laws. It also needs to be specified that the DSA does not affect Member States’ competence to regulate issues related to cultural diversity and media pluralism. If the DSA falls short of clarifying these interlinkages, it may, in the end, create overlaps or even undermine regulatory achievements in the media sector.
We will be active in advocating these principles as the final negotiations progress. We believe that the DSA can be a strong tool to protect EU fundamental rights online, particularly media freedom and freedom of expression. With the above listed adjustments, it can make the internet a safer and more transparent place, limiting the power of online platforms to control what we see and why.