Ofcom: Online Regulation Poses No Threat To Freedom Of Speech

A new regulatory regime for the tech giants will not impact upon free speech which is the “beating heart of our democracy, values and modern society,” a senior Ofcom executive has said today.

Ofcom group content director Kevin Bakhurst moved to address concerns that the new regime could have a negative impact upon freedom of speech and journalism.

Following the Government’s initial response to the online harms consultation, in which it said it was minded to appoint Ofcom to regulate harmful content online, the NMA cited “clear and unequivocal assurances” by Ministers that journalistic content will not fall within the scope of the new regime.

The NMA called on the Government to make an explicit exemption on the face of any legislation for news media publishers and their journalism.

Writing for The Times today, Mr Bakhurst said that good regulation should support and freedom of speech rather than undermining it and that, while concerns were “premature” and “unfounded” he understood the basis for them.  

He said: “Open expression is the lifeblood of the internet. Free speech is the beating heart of our democracy, values and modern society. It is also central to our work as the UK’s broadcasting watchdog, thanks to three important principles.

“First, we never censor content. Our powers to sanction broadcasters who breach our rules apply only after a programme has aired. In fact, the clear, fair and respected code that we enforce on TV and radio acts as a strong deterrent against poor behaviour.

“Second, we are independent from government, free from corporate or political influence. We believe the same should be true of the online regulator.

“And third, we are already legally required to secure audience protection in a way that best guarantees freedom for broadcasters to transmit a range of ideas – and your right to receive them. Far from undermining free speech, good regulation can and does support it.

He added: “The global nature of the web brings great challenges. But many of the solutions lie in established standards, such as the “freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

“The UN declared that freedom in the age of the telegram, but it’s no less important in the era of TikTok and Twitter.”