EU digital platform regulation must do more to protect right to information
With the European Union’s proposed Digital Services Act (DSA) now in its final phase of discussion among the EU’s institutions, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on negotiators to agree on ambitious legislation capable of safeguarding, as far as it is still possible, the public’s right to information.
The DSA and its sister, the Digital Market Act (DMA), offer unprecedented progress in the regulation of the digital space’s systemic entities. In particular, the due diligence requirement for platforms, the protection of freedom of opinion and the guarantees of respect for freedom of expression are moving in the right direction. But they are not going far enough.
RSF regrets that the DSA and DMA are not addressing essential issues, in particular, a political, ideological and religious neutrality requirement for platforms, the need for mechanisms to promote the reliability of news and information, and the need to guarantee of the independence of national regulators. Algorithmic transparency obligations are also far from complete.
Final negotiations are now taking place within the “trilogue” format, which brings together representatives of the European Council, Commission and Parliament. It should make further improvements to the DSA possible, albeit within this legislation’s limited scope.
“The ‘trilogue’ negotiation that has just begun among the European institutions offers a major opportunity to protect the public’s right to information in the European Union,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “RSF's proposals are on the table. We call on negotiators to demonstrate the ambition that this unprecedented regulation requires. Progress is within reach.”
Protect freedom of opinion by safeguarding right to reliable information
RSF calls on the trilogue to ensure that the DSA safeguards the right to information within the European Union. Throughout the discussions, RSF has proposed that the DSA should oblige platforms to promote reliable sources of news and information in their search engine results and newsfeeds (the principle of due prominence). The Journalism Trust Initiative, developed by RSF and enshrined as a standard by European Committee for Standardisation, offers a way to do this.
As it stands, the DSA does not include this requirement. The principle of promoting reliable sources of information is included in the Code of Practice on Disinformation, a co-regulatory tool envisaged by the DSA that is currently being negotiated between platforms, civil society actors (including RSF) and the Commission. But adherence to the Code’s principles is left to the discretion of the platforms, which considerably reduces its impact and that of the DSA since the Code will be used to assess platform’s compliance with the DSA’s due diligence requirement. Consistency requires including the requirement to promote reliable sources of news and information in the DSA itself.
Safeguard right to freedom of expression according to international norms
RSF calls on the trilogue to strengthen safeguards for the public’s freedom of expression, as proposed by the European Parliament. Some of the Parliament’s amendments constitute progress in regulating content removals initiated by platforms or carried out by platforms in response to requests from authorities. The possibility for platforms to delete content considered illegal would be more strictly regulated, and users’ rights of appeal would be strengthened, in particular the right to effective recourse before an independent judge. Platforms could resist content removal orders that do not comply with the right to freedom of expression as established in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and could appeal against such orders.
Reinforce platform due diligence requirements
RSF calls on the trilogue to strengthen the due diligence requirements placed on the large online platforms, as recommended by the European Parliament. RSF has been pressing for better identification of the “systemic risks” posed by the large platforms, in particular, the risks to the democratic debate, and for reinforcement of their obligations to remedy these risks.
The amendments adopted by Parliament have moved in this direction. They improve the definition of these risks, and oblige the platforms to assess the impact of their systems – their algorithms, their business models, the “intrinsic characteristics” of their services and so on – on the digital public sphere, and take more detailed measures to remedy the risks they pose.
The Parliament has passed other amendments making it possible to safeguard a high level of citizen protection in the digital sphere, including reinforcing platform transparency obligations and preserving the right to encryption. RSF urges the trilogue to follow the European Parliament by adopting its amendments.