European Parliament’s CULT committee set to greenlight controversial amendment to the EMFA in today’s vote

The European Parliament’s CULT committee is set to vote on the EMFA. The committee is likely to approve the contentious 24-hour must-carry amendment that could make it harder to fight disinformation, and would undermine the Digital Services Act.

By EDRi · September 7, 2023

On 7 September, the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) will vote on its final opinion on the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA). Among others, this proposal seeks to protect media plurality and media outlets from editorial interference.

The CULT Committee has approved a regulation that creates new rules in the relationship between media services providers (MSP) and very large online platforms (VLOPs). Although some improvements were included on the Commission proposal, EDRi is concerned about changes that could amplify disinformation and harmful online content, such as the 24-hour must-carry obligation in Article 17.

This obligation would prevent online platforms from suspending or restricting media content for 24 hours after its published, even if it violates the platforms’ terms and conditions, such as spreading disinformation. This could undermine the aim of the Digital Services Act (DSA) to “set out uniform rules for a safe, predictable and trusted online environment”.

Why no one wins with a 24-hour-must-carry obligation

The approval of the controversial 24-hour obligation by the CULT committee creates several problems.

Firstly, this amendment suggests that (self-declared) media information is inherently trustworthy. This is not true. Media content is not immune to being disinformation that may become viral and cause harm in a short period. Disinformation travels faster than reliable information and can be disseminated to the public through multiple channels (e.g. messaging apps). In such cases, reacting very fast is crucial. In case this amendment is approved by the Plenary of the EU Parliament, media content, even if it amplifies disinformation, will remain available for at least 24 hours on social media.

Secondly, it is challenging to predict how this rule will impact the power dynamics between VLOPs and MSPs. The structural problem between a MSP and VLOP is based on how online platforms are bottlenecks in the distribution of content based on the commercial incentives of VLOPs (which is user engagement). This restricts and diminishes the diversity and quality of online media content. A 24-hour must-carry obligation does not solve this problem. As EDRi member Article 19 advocates, a potential solution could involve opening up recommender systems to third parties, fostering a more diverse and plural landscape of media content in online platforms.

Finally, EMFA is introducing a special regime of content moderation rules for the media. This diverges from the DSA. During the DSA debate, it was confirmed that no actor shall have special treatment on content moderation policies because media outlets may also spread disinformation ( see for e.g. RT or Sputnik. However, the DSA’s mechanisms to moderate content strive for fast and ex-post measures (“in a timely manner” and “without undue delay”) rather than ex-ante content moderation measures.

The CULT Committee's 24-hour must-carry obligation misses the bigger picture. Instead of solving the structural problems between media outlets and online platforms, it could open the door to more online disinformation

Sebastian Becker, Policy Advisor

To sum up, a 24-hour must-carry obligation could undermine the DSA implementation and open the door to other stakeholders asking for similar privileges in content moderation policies.

What’s next?

Once the CULT Committee votes on its opinion, the proposal will be ready to be discussed and voted in the plenary of the EU Parliament. This would be the last stage to include improvements in the proposal before moving on to the trilogues

The trilogue process for EMFA will be quite different from other inter-institutional negotiations. Next year’s EU Parliament elections and the change of mandate for the European commission will add extra pressure : MEPs will be focusing on their candidature for the elections, and the EU Commission will be pressured to score a final achievement before ending its mandate.

On top of that, the Hungarian and Polish presidency in the Council of the EU are also just around the corner. This could slowdown negotiation during the trilogues in their mandate. The lack of time, the political pressure over policymakers and the foreseeable disagreement of this proposal by both the Hungarian and Polish presidencies are the perfect cocktail to let the noise of urgency drown out the voice of reason. We must not let that happen.

EDRi will continue to stress the importance of having an EMFA in line with the DSA principles. It is crucial that EMFA be a harmonised legislation that protects media plurality and avoids the spread of disinformation online .

Sebastian Becker

Policy Advisor