Following Facebook’s unprecedented decision to ban Australian users from viewing and sharing news content, Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba has said the EU must seek to “take back control” from Big Tech firms.
“This power imbalance must be addressed,” Agius Saliba told Lovin Malta. “Some 75% of all online advertising is taken up by two companies alone, Google and Facebook, and it’s a big problem. The Australia precedent is important because they were testing the waters.”
Citing his recent survey on social media use, which found that 56% of the Maltese public use social media “to form their political and public opinions”, Agius Saliba said it doesn’t pay Big Tech companies to ban news outlets in the long term.
“How can they exclude so much online activity just because they don’t want to reach fair agreements with news publishers? They’ll still end up losing revenue from ads if they block the whole market.”
“The imbalance is big – we can either let Big Tech companies continue leading the way and functioning through their self-imposed rules or we can take back control. I believe we must take back control for the sake of freedom of speech, democracy and society in general.”
Agius Saliba spearheaded a report on the Digital Services Act, which the European Parliament approved last October. Along with the Digital Market Act, the DSA represents the EU’s efforts to regulate the digital space.
While Agius Saliba has already come out in favour of Big Tech firms adequately compensating media houses for featuring their content on their platforms, he’s unsure whether any additional EU legislation needs to be introduced.
This is because the Copyright Directive, which came into force two years ago, includes a clause (Article 15) which allows EU press publishers to claim revenue from online use of their publications by information society service providers.
It was recently tested when Google agreed to pay a group of French news publishers $76 million over three years as part of a copyright settlement deal.
However, Agius Saliba warned the deal itself is opaque, meaning EU legislators cannot assess whether the compensation is just or not.
“Compensation must be fair because the power imbalance [between Big Tech and media houses] is too big for publishers to reach a fair deal without any arbitration.”
“I’m proposing that we see the outcome of this agreement between Google and Fenech publishers to find out how Article 15 will effect the news media and publishing industry and whether it’s enough.”
In either case, the MEP said he was wary of including a compensation clause within the Digital Services Act itself as doing so would risk hijacking debate on the DSA.
“However, something must happen if we want to fight fake news and help the media industry invest in investigative journalism and being good media sources.”
Facebook’s draconian move was in response to a proposed law which would make tech giants pay for news content on their platforms.
Australia said this law is needed to “level the playing field” between media houses and Google and Facebook, who are taking the lion’s share of digital advertising revenue. However, the tech giants have warned it unfairly penalties their platforms.
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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.