Dear Members of the European Parliament,
We, 24 civil society groups and experts from across Europe, are writing to express our deep concern about the danger posed to public safety by Article 17.2 of the European Media Freedom Act and to urge you to vote for plenary amendments seeking to mitigate its threat.
As written, the proposed Article would introduce a dangerous carve-out from online content moderation for media, seriously impeding the fight against hate speech and disinformation, hindering protection of minors, and laying Europe’s democracies bare to interference from malign foreign and domestic actors.
It would also damage the very people it seeks to protect, corroding the reach of legitimate journalists and drowning out their voices with clickbait and disinformation. Indeed, Nobel prize-winning journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov have warned against such “special exemptions” in their 10-point-plan to fix the information crisis, stressing that such carve-outs would give a “blank check” to governments and non-state actors producing industrial-scale disinformation to harm democracy. The plan has been signed by over 289 Nobel Laureates, organisations, and individuals around the world.
While well-intentioned, the CULT Committee’s version of Article 17.2 is the worst of all worlds, with parameters so wide, and vetting procedures so weak, that virtually anyone describing themselves as media would be entitled to privileged treatment. By requiring platforms to keep problematic “media'' content up for 24 hours, and preventing them from labelling or blurring posts, it would remove the ability to take swift action to prevent the viral spread of disinformation or other harmful content in the most crucial hours — or contain the subsequent damage.
A must-carry provision for media content raises particular concerns in countries where the ruling party controls public service broadcasting as state media. It would also mean content from pro-Putin disinformation sites would be subject to lighter rules than posts from ordinary people, a situation as perilous as it would be unjust. This rash approach is even more alarming for the timing, coming just after a Commission study found that online disinformation is still thriving, and tech companies still failing to remove a large share.
A media exemption was already considered, and rejected, in the Digital Services Act. MEPs wisely said no, understanding that the measure would seriously disable Europe’s efforts to rein in the worst abuses of the tech platforms and compromise user expectations for unbiased content moderation. A year later it is back, pushed by a powerful media lobby, despite posing the same threat to democracy, public safety, and the future of robust, fact-based journalism. By assigning a media privilege to media service providers, Article 17 undermines the EU code of practice on disinformation and the EU’s Digital Services Act by adding new and potentially conflicting procedures.
A media exemption was a bad idea for the DSA, and it is a bad idea for the EMFA – even if disguised under a new name. We urge you to once again stand up for European citizens, democracy and media integrity and vote for alternative plenary amendments that would:
- Remove “restrict” from “suspend or restrict” so that platforms will still be able to automatically blur, label, or algorithmically downrank content that violates their policies even if they cannot suspend content, limiting the damage of the media loophole;
- Remove the 24-hour must-carry obligation, which allows huge damage to be done by the spread of viral disinformation and hate speech;
- Remove the involvement of national regulators in the designation of media service providers, which is ripe for abuse by member states where media freedom is at threat.
Bits of Freedom
Centre for Peace Studies
Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Electronic Frontier Finland
EU Disinfo Lab
European Digital Rights (EDRi)
European Partnership for Democracy (EPD)
Fair Vote UK
Foundation The London Story
Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD)
‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association
People vs Big Tech
WHAT TO FIX