The leaders of European politics are really not at a loss when it comes to praising themselves. It can't be applied thick enough. No sooner had the Digital Services Act passed the European Parliament on Thursday than Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton tweeted: "Time to bring order to the Wild West - there's a new sheriff in town, the DSA." . The SPD MEP Tiemo Wölken (SPD) declared no less boastfully: "As the new digital basic law for Europe, the Digital Services Act will put Internet legislation on a completely new foundation."

So Europe is finally way ahead, showing the digital giants and freeing internet citizens from the yoke of GAFA, as the oligopolists from Silicon Valley are called.

You can indeed take the foundation literally, corporations are subject to limits on illegal content, data analysis and personalized advertising, they have to fulfill transparency obligations and make it easier for users not to be tracked.

Unfortunately, the great foundation of digital legislation has a significant crack: freedom of the press does not apply in this “Basic Law”.

The "new sheriff" has done it if nothing else is changed in the trilogue, i.e. the vote on the law between the EU Commission, Parliament and the member states.

What's in the fine print

Can this be? As always when there is a lot of fanfare coming from Brussels, you have to read the fine print. This is found in the case of freedom of the press in Section 12(1) of the Digital Services Act. Article twelve spells out numerous obligations of digital companies. First of all, it says: “The providers of brokerage services use fair, non-discriminatory and transparent general terms and conditions. Providers of intermediary services shall draft these general terms and conditions in plain, simple, user-friendly and unambiguous language and make them publicly available in an easily accessible and machine-readable form in the official languages ​​of the Member State to which the service is targeted."

So far so good. It goes on to say: "In their general terms and conditions, providers of intermediary services shall respect freedom of expression, media freedom and pluralism and other fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Charter and the provisions applicable to media in the Union."

That sounds authoritative and is, as the German publishers' associations BDZV and VDZ write in a press release, "better than nothing". It's "better than nothing" because the EU Commission's proposal didn't contain a sentence on compliance with press freedom. But it is worse than what the Legal Affairs Committee and the Culture Committee of the European Parliament are proposing, namely to write into law that "freedom of expression" should not only be "respected", but that it is the basis of publishing in the internet is. In view of the current choice of words in the law, one can consider whether it is a matter of interpretation.

It can mean that the terms and conditions of the platform corporations take precedence over press freedom and that the corporations decide at their discretion what can and cannot be published on their platforms, even if they are legitimate press publications. The fact that this can lead to censorship, which the Digital Services Act in the form adopted by the EU Parliament also sanctions, is illustrated by the BDZV and VDZ with a striking example: According to its general terms and conditions, Facebook decides, for example, whether users can publish “legal press articles about the possibility of a laboratory accident as a cause of corona or not".

The "nonchalance with which the EU Parliament rejected the principles of freedom of the press and freedom of information for press distribution via monopoly platforms such as Facebook" is "remarkable", say the associations.

The “apparently politically desired delivery of freedom of the press and freedom of expression to the management of Facebook & Co.” appears “all the more problematic as a growing number of younger people receive our media almost exclusively via social networks”.

The unions are correct.

The former federal government took the position in the EU Council of Ministers that the digital corporations should not switch off the free press.

Let's see what the traffic light government thinks of freedom of the press.

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