EU Commissioner Vestager: "Platforms have certain responsibilities towards society"

By Jane Whyatt

European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager fights for fairness on the European market, also against massive corporate players like Google and Apple. In an interview with the ECPMF she talks about her role in Europe, the death of old media and the future of the market.

Margrethe Vestager Margrethe Vestager, competition commissioner of the EU (copyright: Johannes Jansson/, Margrethe Vestager, ekonomi- och inrikesminister Danmark. Nordiska radets session i Kopenhamn 2011, CC BY 2.5 DK)

Would you say unfair competition is on the increase with Alphabet as a bad „role model“?

Our role is not to single out a company but to go after behaviour that distorts competition. The principles of competition law are constant. We look at behaviour in the market but of course given rapid changes in certain markets it is important that our tools are flexible enough to deal with diverse factual, technical and legal issues. Competition rules can therefore help to keep markets open, but they cannot of course solve every problem on their own.

Many traditional media companies complain that internet companies such as Google and Facebook act as publishers and in this way they unfairly distort the media market. So they put the viability of traditional media at risk, endangering journalists’ livelihoods and shrinking the range of choices for consumers. What could the EU do to restore the balance between old and new media, so that traditional newspapers do not become extinct?

The Internet has changed our access to news, creating new challenges, but also new opportunities for traditional media players. The Commission can intervene if there is evidence that certain firms do not compete on the merits of their offerings, or to propose measures in specific fields. For example, the draft Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market introduces a right for news publishers concerning the online reproduction of their news publications.

What do you think of the German government’s ’Facebook Law’ that imposes huge penalties on social networks if they fail to promptly remove hate speech or fake news? Is this a model for the EU, and does it signify that these networks are really publishers and not just 'clean pipes'?

Online platforms have become important distributors of content. The online diffusion of illegal content such as incitement to terrorism or racist speech raises serious concerns and merits public intervention, where appropriate. Platforms have certain responsibilities towards society and they should thus be encouraged to implement mechanisms and effective procedures to ensure the swift removal of illegal content. Any solution needs to fully respect the EU acquis, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Concentration of media ownership is identified as a problem for press and media freedom across Europe, from Ireland to Albania and beyond. This is shown by the Centre for Media Plurality and Freedom’s latest researchAlso concentration of ownership means that citizens have a very restricted choice of just a few different media outlests and political perspectives. This is a huge problem. How to tackle it?

The Commission's powers are limited to assess mergers and acquisition in the media sector from a competition angle. Possible media plurality issues fall within the remit of Member States. It is for Member States to set up the necessary safeguards to preserve the independence of their press and to ensure that a plurality of voices continues to exist within their territories.

What does an ideal media market look like?

It is a market where there is a sufficient variety of providers, content and ideas allowing consumers to find news and analysis. The ad-supported business model respects consumer privacy. Consumers can choose to buy different types of media content from different providers, instead of being locked into a silo. All providers pay their fair share of taxes.

What do you think the European media market will look like in five years?

New services such as Facebook or Spotify have dramatically transformed the media markets and change is still ongoing. Markets in certain countries may be becoming more concentrated and, therefore, subject toincreased scrutiny. Immediacy, in the way we share and consume content, and proximity, in how we look for cross-border content and interact with others through social media, may be on the riseBroadcasting and press services may be converging towards greater online presence.

And what are your own media habits? Do you buy or subscribe to newspapers or rely on social media and digital news feeds?

I get my news from a wide variety of providers via subscriptions. I read printed papers from time to time but most of my news consumption is via a smartphone or a tablet. 

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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –