BRUSSELS: Tech giants should keep their hands off editorial content

The Nordvision partners want to ensure that a new EU directive requires digital platforms to respect the editorial independence of public service broadcasters.

Presenter Kristian Gintberg “smoked” a liquorice pipe.

Facebook, Google Play, YouTube and similar key players should be viewed purely as distribution platforms. For this reason, the tech giants should not in any way edit the content that the Nordic public service broadcasters make available hrough their platforms.

An imaginary farting elephant, and a child and an adult “smoking” liquorice pipes on air – just like Alfie Atkins’s pipe-smoking father – proved more than Google Play could handle.

This is the main demand put forward by Nordvision’s Director Generals, who at an early stage in the process aimed to influence a legislative proposal by the European Commission known as the Digital Services Act.

Freedom of speech comes under pressure

The purpose of the act is to break the dominance achieved by the global digital platforms, which is now outside of European control.

“By far the most important thing for us is to secure our editorial independence. We take full legal responsibility for complying with legislation in our respective countries, and that is why there should be no additional editorial judgement that is outside of our control,” says Charlotte Niklasson. As director of Nordvision’s office in Brussels, she is responsible for promoting the Nordic countries’ positions at official level.

When the various digital platforms set their own, often impenetrable standards for permissible content, this also means that freedom of speech, cultural diversity and the diversity of the media come under pressure at the same time. This constitutes a democratic problem and undermines people’s trust in the media, Nordvision points out in its recommendations to the Commission. Nordvision illustrates the problem through some very specific examples of the tech giants acting as arbiters of taste and gatekeepers.

Alfie Atkins’s father purged by censors

One example is DR’s Ramasjang app, which Google Play removed because of
a sequence in which a child along with the presenter depict Sherlock Holmes, using liquorice pipes as props. Google’s censors found this incompatible with an entertainment universe aimed at children. Similarly, Alfie Atkins’s pipe-smoking father was purged from the platform without any warning. The same fate befell NRK’s Fantorangen – an elephant-like fantasy character who sits on the toilet and farts to the delight of very young children aged two to four years. Here, Google decided that a target audience of 11 to 13-year-olds would be more appropriate.

MISSING TEXT

Another important requirement for the Nordic public service broadcasters is to gain access to the data that the tech giants collect when they make the
broadcasters’ productions available on their platforms.

“And we are also focusing on findability. Our content must not be swamped
in favour of paid content or the platforms’ own content,” explains Charlotte
Niklasson.

On 15 December 2020, the Commission presented two bills aimed at regulating the tech giants in terms of content and finance respectively. The proposals have been submitted to member states for comments. This process should be completed in 18-24 months, which would mean the second half of 2022.