June 21. 2024. 4:17

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Leading MEP proposes expanding ‘media exemption’ on content moderation


In her draft report on the proposed European Media Freedom Act, the European Parliament’s rapporteur reinforced a controversial content oversight provision and pushed for greater independence of a new regulatory body.

Sabine Verheyen, the EU lawmaker spearheading the work on the new media law in the culture and education parliamentary committee (CULT), published her draft report on Tuesday (11 April).

The European Media Freedom Act is a legislative proposal regulating the media sector for the first time at the EU level to protect media pluralism and independence by boosting the transparency of media ownership and bolstering outlets’ editorial and financial independence.

The proposal has proven controversial, with significant opposition from publishers. The CULT committee has been divided on the subject, with the rapporteur and one shadow rapporteur recently joining calls to split the regulation into a directive, which others argue would weaken the legislation overall.

Verheyen introduced several significant changes in terms of content moderation, governance, market concentration and media outlets from outside Europe. Her draft report will be the basis for the upcoming discussions among lawmakers.

Wednesday (12 April) is the deadline for the political groups to table their amendments, with the view of adopting the legislation in the CULT committee in September. However, the possibility of closing the file ahead of the end of the mandate is slim, given the tight timeline and sensitivity of the subject.

Commission releases Media Freedom Act proposal, to mixed reactions

The Commission has released its proposal for a Media Freedom Act, to mixed reaction from civil society and media sector organisations.

Online platforms

The Media Freedom Act includes provisions covering the relationship between media service providers and very large online platforms like Facebook, TikTok and Twitter as defined under the Digital Services Act.

These include a measure that would mean platforms would have to take particular precautions in treating content originating from actors who, based on certain criteria, declare themselves to be media outlets.

Under the original proposal’s terms, platforms would be required to alert media providers that their content was set to be removed before this took effect and process any complaints submitted by these providers without delay.

This provision has seen the return of a debate that arose during negotiations on the Digital Services Act. Some stakeholders, especially those working in anti-disinformation fields, argue that this constitutes a ‘media exemption’.

The draft report expanded the measure to restrictions of content or services, not just suspensions, and specified that platforms must give media providers 48 hours before it takes effect to respond.

In other words, the provision would also apply if the platform’s algorithm demotes the content, giving two days to object to the decision, which is a long time for online dissemination, for instance, on social media.

In turn, platforms would have to respond to complaints within 24 hours of their submission.

Media exemption ruled out in DSA negotiations, but could return

An attempt to exempt the media from new content moderation rules has been ruled out following opposition from all major political groups, but the battle is not over.

Governance

The regulation is set to create a new oversight body for media matters, the European Board for Media Services. The Board will replace the existing European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA) and is intended to boost cooperation between national media regulators.

Concerns have been raised by some stakeholders about the new Board’s independence, given that the original text of the regulation involves the European Commission in many aspects of its functioning.

In CULT’s draft report, however, an increased separation between the two authorities is introduced, including articles covering the Board’s tasks, structured cooperation between national regulatory authorities, the issuance of guidance on media regulation issues and national measures that impact media service providers.

Several changes have been made to vest the Board with the power to take actions on its own initiative, not just at the request of, in agreement with, the Commission. In some cases, references to close cooperation with the EU executive have also been removed.

Amendments have also been made to the provision covering the Board’s secretariat, which was to be “provided by the Commission” in the original text. Instead, Verheyen wants the secretariat to be independent of the Commission and the EU governments.

Bid to split Media Freedom Act into directive stalls in Parliament

A bid by German publishers to split the European Media Freedom Act into a directive appears to have stalled amid broader opposition to the watering down of the proposal.

Concentrations

The media market concentration measures have been specified as only referring to tie-ups “significantly impacting pluralism”.

The new wording responds to concerns that media mergers are not necessarily signifiers of diminishing media freedom since, in certain contexts, they might be essential to sustaining the financial viability of outlets in economic trouble.

Moreover, the leading MEP wants to indicate that national rules on concentration assessments should prioritise “safeguarding, maintaining and promoting” pluralism and must be holistic, considering the online environment.

Additional amendments

Threats to public health, hate speech motivated by race or religion, and programmes that violate individuals’ human dignity have been added to the list of topics that might be subject to national regulators’ rules regarding the content of providers from third countries.

The report also specifies that it is up to member states whether to fund a public service media but that, when they do so, it is their responsibility to ensure that it is independent and its management is transparently and objectively appointed.

EU Council lawyers confirm legal basis of Media Freedom Act

The legal basis of the European Media Freedom Act (MFA) has been upheld by the influential EU Council legal service, weakening a push by some to unpack chunks of the regulation into a directive.