White: New Regulator Must ‘Not Encroach’ Into ‘Thriving, Pluralistic’ UK Newspaper Sector

Ofcom chief executive Sharon White has said that a new regulator for the tech platforms aimed at cracking down on online harms must “not encroach into a thriving pluralistic newspaper sector in the UK.”

Giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee during a session on The work of Ofcom inquiry this week, Ofcom chief executive Sharon White stressed the importance of ensuring newspapers were not caught up in the new regime.

Asked by Committee chairman Damian Collins about whether she was confident that a new regulator would be able to come up with a definition for the types of disinformation that would be classed as harmful, Ms White said it was “a complex area” and that coming up with a definition would involve audience and user research.

“That would be at the core while obviously being clear that – Jeremy Wright has already to the Society of Newspaper Editors – being clear that that does not then encroach into a thriving pluralistic newspaper sector in the UK. But I do think it’s possible.    

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright has moved to reassure the newspaper sector that news media publications will not be impacted by the new regulator which will aim to reduce instances of online harms propagated by the tech platforms.

In a letter to the Society of Editors, copied to the News Media Association, Mr Wright stressed that a new regulator would not seek to “duplicate” the work of IPSO and areas “where services are already well regulated.”

Mr Wright said: “Journalistic or editorial content will not be affected by the regulatory framework. Furthermore, the regulator will have a legal duty to pay due regard to protecting users’ rights online, particularly their privacy and freedom of expression. We are clear that the regulator will not be responsible for policing truth and accuracy online.”

During DCMS Committee session on Tuesday, Ms White also noted that the Online Harms White Paper had not mentioned advertising much despite two independent reviews finding that the tech giants have a near monopoly on digital advertising.  

Asked by Committee member Paul Farrelly about the potential role of advertising in the new regime, she said: “It’s interesting because the White Paper doesn’t talk very much about advertising either, as you say, about core commercial advertising or about political advertising.  

“And I would say a couple of things: There is the role of advertising as what I would call a block on competition – the Committee will I’m sure be familiar with Jason Furman’s review and Frances Cairncross – so the degree to which there is monopoly power by these companies which is a block on new entrants which ultimately harms users.

“And I think there is a question between the CMA and Ofcom because we’ve got concurrent or joint powers already on the competition side if we believe that advertising, commercial advertising, is a block on competition.”