The European Parliament has approved two pieces of legislation aimed at tackling anti-competitive behaviour by internet giants (Digital Markets Directive, DMA) and forcing them to moderate more effectively the content they host (Digital Services Directive, DSA). The wording of the latter is causing suspicions among part of the media sector in the EU area insofar as it could lead to the blocking of news publications. This is what the European Magazine Association (EMMA) and the European News Publishers Association (ENPA) have expressed in a joint communiqué.
In particular, the two groups consider that the DSA has gone ahead without “robust protection of fundamental rights”, which will have “a worrying impact on press freedom in an increasingly digital world”. EMMA and ENPA regret that their demands for media content to be protected from arbitrary interference by platforms, which they have been pressing for throughout the gestation of the legislation, have not been taken into account. The text includes a reference to freedom of the press, which in any case they believe to be insufficient.
EMMA and ENPA regret that an explicit defence of media content against possible arbitrariness has not been incorporated into the text.
The key disagreement lies in the fact that, in addition to forcing the deletion of illegal content, the DSA places no obstacles in the way of these large companies being able to determine the deletion of content that may not be illegal but is contrary to their internal rules. This is of particular concern given that the younger readers of the media concerned consume much of their content through these companies, as reflected in the latest edition of the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report.
The two associations believe that in the final wording of the text it should have been made explicit that what is legal outside the internet should also be legal on these platforms, so that freedom of expression is not limited by their regulations rather than by the law. They therefore ask the European Parliament to take this into account for future revisions of the articles, which in the near future will have to be transposed into the legal frameworks of each member state.
Both the WFD and the FDD are two of the biggest regulatory efforts on the internet in recent times and their global effect remains to be seen, as the “Brussels effect” generally means that many companies apply outside Europe what they have to comply with in the region in order to avoid operational complexity. The first of these will come into force in the coming months but compliance will probably not be mandatory until 2024, when the second is also expected to come into force.
Failure to comply with the WFD could lead to fines of up to 10% of the annual global revenue of one of these companies, or up to 20% if repeated. And the maximum penalty under the WFD is 6% of the total annual turnover. In extreme cases, the approved texts include the possibility of forcing the companies to break up.