23 February 2023 – Expert workshop on “Online journalism: Digital Services Act & Media Freedom Act”

“The DSA’s capacities for free media and safe journalists online: realistic or utopian?”

A DSA Observatory & AI, Media & Democracy Lab expert workshop

23 February 2023, 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm (CET)

The DSA Observatory and the AI, Media and Democracy Lab are organising an online invite-only workshop on online journalism and the role of online platforms. During this event, several expert speakers will elaborate on the role of the Digital Services Act (DSA) on journalism. The focus will be on topics such as the safety of journalists online and the protection of news media content on and by online platforms. Article 17 Media Freedom Act (MFA) in relation to the DSA and digital journalism will also be discussed.



15:30 – 15:35 Opening

Co-chairs prof. Natali Helberger and dr. Ronan Fahy

Part I – Safety of journalists and media actors online

15:35 – 15:40 Imane Rachidi – independent journalist

Journalists’ experiences with online harassment and reporting threats.

15:40 – 15:45 Prof. Tarlach McGonagle – professor of Media Law & Information Society at Leiden University, associate professor at University of Amsterdam

Council of Europe standards on protection of journalists online and the role of online platforms.

15:45 – 15:50 Pieter van Koetsveld – Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science

Dutch government’s possible plans for using mechanisms under the DSA, such as trusted flaggers, to tackle online intimidation of journalists.

15:50 – 16:15 Discussion and questions

Part II – Protection of media content online

16:15 – 16:20 Thomas Bergmann – European Broadcasting Union

Journalistic and news media content removals from platforms and the issue of news media content availability on platforms.

16:20 – 16:25 Ana Balcells-Cartagena – European Commission

Implications of the DSA for news media content on platforms and the protection of media freedom.

16:25 – 16:30

Eliška Pírková – Access Now

Implications of Article 17 of the proposed MFA, and the DSA for news media content on online platforms.

16:30 – 16:55 Discussion and questions

16:55 – 17:00 Closing remarks

Co-chairs prof. Natali Helberger and dr. Ronan Fahy


A report of the event (written under Chatham rules) will be shared with the participants afterwards.

Background information

After two years of discussion and debates, the Digital Services Act (DSA) has entered into force on 16 November 2022. The DSA’s goal is to ensure a safe online environment by regulating online platforms and ensuring fundamental rights. Freedom of expression and media freedom have obtained a prominent position in several of the DSA’s provisions and play an important role in platform’s obligations under the DSA.

During the DSA debates, the role of journalists and other media professionals, and media content was broadly discussed, too. Many reports have shown the increase of online harassment against journalists, varying from sexual insults to death threats. Platforms have also repeatedly taken down lawful content from established media organisations, severely impacting both journalists’ right to impart information, as the public’s right to receive that information. The need for an environment in which journalists can safely do their jobs is clear. How the DSA will exactly contribute to this environment, is not entirely clear.

Next to the DSA, the European Commission published the European Media Freedom Act (MFA) proposal in September 2022, which includes a new set of rules to protect media freedom and media pluralism. In particular, Article 17 of the MFA deserves some attention, as it relates to the DSA, but more importantly: it seems to give media service providers a special position. Where Very Large Online Platforms (VLOP)s decide to suspend the provision of their service to a media service provider, they should take all possible measures to give prior notice of that decision to the media service provider.

This could be regarded as media service providers obtaining a privileged position under the MFA due to a so-called “media exemption”. Such an exemption was heavily debated around the DSA too, but not included as there was a lot of critique on such a privileged position for media services that were yet to be defined.

Apart from the ambiguities in the DSA and the MFA’s impact the media’s position on online platforms, the DSA could have real potential contributing to the much needed protection. Provisions such as the notice-and-action mechanism (Article 16), the statement of reasons (Article 17) or trusted flaggers (Article 22) could benefit journalist’s safety online.

The risk governance framework for VLOPs is another interesting component through which the protection of journalists’ safety and journalistic content online could be strengthened. Negative effects to freedom of expression, freedom and pluralism of the media and civic discourse are regarded as systemic risk associated with VLOPs, and thus should be mitigated appropriately.

As journalists are of huge importance for freedom of expression and freedom and pluralism of the media, it is easy to imagine how risks to them and their content can lead to systemic risks to these fundamental freedoms.

A central question during this expert workshop will be how the DSA can meaningfully enhance the safety of journalists and protect media content online, thereby safeguarding fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and media freedom.

The DSA Observatory has published three blog posts on the protection of journalistic content, the safety of journalists and media actors, and the interplay between the DSA and Article 17 MFA, describing the possible impact of some DSA provisions in more detail.

Photo by Michael Fousert on Unsplash