Digital Services Act: Publishers fear EU rules will restrict press freedom

Publishers warn new EU rules could give too much power over press to 'a few powerful digital behemoths'

These anonymous fingers hovering over a Macbook keypad might just be about to do gendered disinformation

New EU rules intended to clamp down on harmful content will hand power to restrict press freedom online into the hands of “a few powerful digital behemoths”, European publishers have warned.

The Digital Services Act, formally adopted with a final vote on Tuesday, aims to “effectively tackle the spread of illegal content online and protect people’s fundamental rights in the digital sphere” in particular by ensuring they are not exposed to false or harmful content online.

The DSA is set to give users more access to platforms’ algorithms, put in place more protections for minors online including bans on targeted advertising for children, and create an obligation for online platforms to remove illegal products, services or content swiftly after it is reported.

But the European Magazine Media Association (EMMA) and The European News Publishers Association (ENPA) issued a joint statement warning that the rules on moderation could see news content being wrongly reported and taken down by tech platforms.

What effect will the Digital Services Act have?

The two organisations expressed concern that the rules give big tech companies the power to delete legal content that is deemed to breach their own terms and conditions or codes of conduct, which they say also risks the arbitrary removal of news content.

“The European press publishers gravely worry that the limits of freedom of expression will be defined by the terms and conditions of a few powerful digital behemoths, and no longer by the law,” said ENPA and EMMA executive director Ilias Konteas.

“This is a worrying trend, notably because an increasing number of readers, young readers, in particular, are exposed to our publications via social media. Press freedom is non-negotiable both online and offline.”

EMMA claims to represent 15,000 magazine publishers across the continent, with members ranging from consumer media giant Bauer to The Economist. Both it and ENPA make up most of their membership by representing the journalism trade associations of various countries across the EU.

In a separate statement, the groups welcomed the arrival of the EU’s Digital Markets Act, which will force so-called gatekeepers, or tech platforms with a market cap of at least $7.5bn or an annual turnover of $7.5bn as well as 45 million monthly EU users, to increase transparency by providing information about the price of ads and the remuneration paid to publishers.

EU regulations cover ads and performance measurement

The tech giants would also be forced to provide access to their performance measuring tools and any other information necessary so publishers and advertisers can carry out their own verification of ad inventory.

Users must also be clearly told whether and why they are targeted by each ad and who paid for it under the proposals.

However, EMMA and ENPA warned that proper policing was needed to ensure the rules have the intended impact, and called on “the European Commission to act with expeditiousness and courage” in pursuing non-compliant tech companies.

Press Gazette previously reported that under the DSA penalties will extend to fines of up to 6% of global turnover, while for “gatekeepers” failing to comply with the DMA this would go up to 10% plus periodic penalty payments of 5%.

The move comes as the UK works on its own set of digital regulations under the Online Safety Bill, which has faced similar criticisms for its failure to properly protect journalistic content.

The draft law compels tech platforms like Google and Facebook to remove harmful material but includes protection for bona fide news publishers and an expedited appeals process if they believe their content has been wrongly removed.

Press Gazette reported this week that specialist media titles like Inside Housing and Gardeners’ World risk having their content taken down as they won’t be afforded the same protections as larger outlets like Mail Online or The Guardian under the bill as it is currently drafted.

Picture: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg/Getty Images

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