Tech & Rights

Digital Rights Groups Oppose Media Privilege: Joint Statement on EMFA

Liberties joins open letter on Article 17 of the draft European Media Freedom Act.

by Franziska Otto

Rights groups call on EU legislators to reject Article 17 of the European Media Freedom Act, which would pose a serious threat to media freedom and could be abused by rogue actors.

In September 2022, the European Commission officially adopted the proposal for the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA). The goal of the regulation is to ensure the protection of media freedom and pluralism across the European Union.

Article 17 of the draft puts forward a so-called “media privilege”. It would allow media service providers to self-declare and gain certain privileges. Among others it would mean that if very large online platforms (VLOPs), such as Facebook or Twitter, decide to remove content posted by media, they will have to give a detailed explanation why it was removed. This information has to be communicated before the content is actually removed.

Among other issues, the self-declaration mechanism is flawed and could be easily abused by rogue media actors who want to spread propaganda and disinformation. In some EU member states, such as Hungary or Poland, even public service media is captured by the ruling political parties and turned into a propaganda machine. These media would qualify for privileged treatment. At the same time, civil society organizations or other entities that aim to inform the public are not granted the same privilege.

Overall, the issue lies with the way content is curated on VLOPs. Online platforms use algorithms to decide what kind of content is more visible based on what will make them more money, e.g. through advertisement revenue. Media services are vulnerable to a drop in visibility and therefore a loss in traffic because VLOPs have the final say in what we will see in our social media feeds. The way big platforms have changed the media market is a big problem that is not solved by Article 17. On the contrary, it is necessary to have equal treatment of various content and to strive for more transparency in the way content is curated and moderated.

This is why a group of NGOs call on the European Union co-legislators to reject Article 17. Read the full policy statement.

POLICY STATEMENT ON ARTICLE 17 OF THE PROPOSED EUROPEAN MEDIA FREEDOM ACT

The undersigned civil society organisations are deeply concerned about Article 17 of the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), which puts forward the so-called proposal for “media privilege”. In this vein, we ask the EU co-legislators to reject Article 17 in its current form altogether.

We understand the need to counterbalance the current asymmetry of power between media service providers (MSP) and very large online platforms (VLOPs). It is important to address how algorithmic content governance policies are changing the public role of media. Healthy newsfeeds on social media are a precondition to get access to reliable information and VLOPs are responsible for their algorithms as well as their content curation and content moderation policies. Furthermore, online platforms’ business models should consider the public interest of quality journalism.

Article 17 of the EMFA suggests a mechanism whereby the identification of an MSP is based on self-declaration (Article 17 (1)). The system of proposed ex-ante notification to self-declared media establishes de facto fast-track, non-transparent procedures to certain privileged actors that will have a major negative impact on the right to freedom of expression and information, even opening the door to rogue actors intent on distorting democratic public discourse. The Digital Services Act already requires mitigation measures against systemic risks imposed by VLOPs’ operations. Thus, 2 the fast-track procedure in Article 17 jeopardises the effectiveness of the Digital Services Act by fragmenting horizontal rules and over-loading with new procedures.

Media actors should as a matter of principle not be granted special treatment when it comes to the moderation of their content shared on very large online platforms. In addition, in some EU member states, such as Hungary or Poland, public service broadcasting is captured by the ruling political parties and turned into a propaganda machine. Under the current wording of Article 17, these media actors would qualify for privileged treatment. Moreover, the fact that Article 17 entrusts VLOPs with a discretionary power to assess the integrity and reliability of media service providers’ self-declaration would grant them even more power to shape the public sphere.

Article 17 focuses primarily on content moderation, referring to restricting or suspending the provision of VLOPs’ services concerning content provided by the MSP. However, algorithmic-driven content curation optimised for profit as well as the monopolisation of the global digital advertising markets by VLOPs constitute a much more serious threat to media pluralism and content diversity. MSPs and their publishers face financial difficulties due to a drop in the visibility and traffic of their content. They are vulnerable to algorithmic content curation by VLOPs that dictate conditions for the curation of all online content, including editorial media and news content. Measures proposed in Article 17 providing privileged treatment to media content will not provide an adequate response to the main issue at stake: VLOPs have changed the very structure and balance of the media market and, thereby, directly impact the pluralistic public sphere.

Therefore, efforts should focus on DSA enforcement, particularly on mitigating systemic risks linked to freedom of expression and information, disinformation, algorithmic amplification and content delivery, and reject Article 17 in the EMFA.

January 2023

• Access Now
• Article 19
• Association for Technology and Internet (ApTI)
• Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties)
• Communia
• Državljan D / Citizen D
• EU Disinfo Lab
• European Digital Rights (EDRi)
• Electronic Frontier Foundation
• Electronic Frontier Norway
• IT-Politisk Forening
• European Partnership for Democracy (EPD)
• Panoptykon Foundation
• Vrijschrift
• Wikimedia Deutschland

Download the full policy statement.

Liberties’ Take To Make Media Freedom Stronger In The EU: EMFA Policy Brief


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