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The European Commission and France have clashed with news publishers in an ongoing debate over whether media content should be exempt from upcoming EU online content rules.
These measures come as factions in the European Parliament fight for the fine print in the EU Digital Services Act (DSA), a landmark technology bill that seeks to impose further restrictions on the content moderation practices of giants like Google and Facebook.
Publishers and broadcasters convinced lawmakers to include exclusions for media content in the bill, arguing that their social media posts should not be subject to platform terms and conditions, and therefore be banned from their moderators. of content.
But the European Commission and French officials have voiced their opposition, joining experts who warn that media exemptions could open the door to manipulation by unscrupulous actors posing as media to spread disinformation or content. harmful as well as lies spread by established but controversial media such as Breitbart. , Fox News and France Soir.
A ban on platforms using content moderators to review editorial content under the DSA would likely entail “serious risks,” a Commission spokesperson said. “This would have potentially negative consequences for the anti-disinformation work … and it could be seen as an undue restriction on entrepreneurial freedom.”
The argument is the latest in a long battle between the content industry and Big Tech. While Paris has traditionally supported the first group, in this case French officials warn of the potential negative effects of media exemptions in the DSA. Germany has supported exemptions for the media in the Council.
“We have some difficulties to go in the direction of the general exemptions, because there are press organs, including foreign ones, which diffuse content very harmful to democracy”, declared this week Chantal Rubin, in charge of the regulation of the platforms to the Ministry of the Economy, adding that the French authorities were working on alternative solutions.
The warnings echo the concerns of groups like EU Disinfolab, which is investigating disinformation online. “All we’ve seen in the disinformation research over the past five years is that the media is still involved,” said group executive director Alexandre Alaphilippe, executive director of EU DisinfoLab.
Donors in Brussels
The crisis is coming to a head at a time when traditional media groups are relying more than ever on social media platforms to amplify their content and reach new audiences. This dependence means that media are increasingly subject to platform terms and conditions, leading to disagreements over content moderation decisions.
Among recent examples of contested content decisions cited by editors, French public television said it was forced to revise sex education content aimed at young people because it violated Snapchat’s rules on sexually explicit content. In another case, a Norwegian magazine’s Instagram post depicting the naked breast of a cancer survivor was removed due to the platform’s nudity rules.
Angela Mills Wade, who heads the European Publishers Council, said publishers should be allowed to retain full editorial freedom even when posting their content on social media.
These arguments found an enthusiastic following among lawmakers, who passed amendments prohibiting social media companies from moderating content from media organizations.
Center-right Finnish lawmaker Henna Virkkunnen said “the terms and conditions of online platforms may not affect free media”, while Frenchman Geoffroy Didier said platforms “should not be allowed to exercise any form of control “over journalistic content.
Germany, meanwhile, proposed an amendment that would require large online platforms to seek approval from media organizations before “interfering” with their content.
But these amendments are now under much more scrutiny. Luca Nicotra, campaign director for digital rights groups Avaaz and Sleeping Giants, said they were “deeply concerned” about possible exemptions, as vague definitions of what counts as media could allow anyone to claim to be one.
The Commission agrees. “The definitions … do not appear to provide foolproof guarantees that some sort of media privilege would be exploited by dishonest media outlets spreading disinformation or other types of harmful content,” a spokesperson said. authoritative information on COVID-19, for example, could become illegal. “
Julie Majerczak, head of the Brussels office of Reporters Without Borders, echoed this point. “In the various amendments to Parliament, the media would include anything and everything,” she said.
Opponents argue that an exemption for media in the DSA could mean Youtube would not have been able to to suspend Russian state-backed broadcaster RT Germany for sharing misinformation about the coronavirus, while outfits masquerading as news outlets to defend lobbying interests could also benefit.
“If the digital services law gives online media organizations a free pass, it’s a highway to disinformation,” added Alaphilippe, of EU DisinfoLab.
The debate is heating up
Parliament’s Home Market Committee is still revising the bill and Danish socialist lawmaker Christel Schaldemose declined to comment on whether media exemptions would be included.
Schaldemose has previously called the power of online platforms over speech “dangerous” for democracies.
“I suggested that we do something to protect, for example, journalists, who very often will either be closed from the platform or at least some of their content removed,” she said during of a press conference. Event in September.
Liberal MEP Dita Charanzová said some of the proposed amendments would create loopholes in the fight against disinformation.
“If we accept the proposals, publishers like, for example, Sputnik would be free to publish whatever they want and the platforms would be unable to remove it. The same would be true for extreme right or extreme left news, ”she said.
In the Council, Slovenia declared potential media exemptions will be discussed in the last week of October. A spokesperson said he did not think there was a need to include specific rules to protect media in the digital services law, as they could be added later in a media specific law.
The issue has been “resolved with hesitation” so far, according to an EU diplomat.
Laura Kayali contributed reporting.
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