Bakhurst: Online Harms Regime Will Uphold Freedom Of Expression

Trusted journalism has never been more important for audiences than it is now, and the new online harms regime will uphold freedom of expression, Ofcom group director of broadcasting and online content Kevin Bakhurst has said.

In a piece for The Times today, Mr Bakhurst said that “freedom of expression is vital to our democracy” and that this principle informs all decisions made by the regulator about content.  

He said: “Legislation will soon be brought forward to address the issue of online harms. Although the legislation is still being drafted, the government has been clear that it will protect freedom of expression and uphold media freedom, and this will underpin Ofcom’s role as the future regulator.

“January’s events at the Capitol should remind us of the value of a free and fair media, offering fair, accurate and impartial broadcast news; accountable and open online platforms; a plurality of news providers; and freedom of expression.”

Following News Media Association lobbying, the Government has said that content and articles published on news media websites and on social media platforms will be out of scope of the new regime and that below-the-line comments on articles on news publishers’ sites will be “explicitly exempted” from it.

The NMA is working with Government and other bodies such as the Law Commission to ensure that the legislation is framed in a way which will fully and robustly uphold freedom of expression.

Writing in The Times, Mr Bakhurst wrote about the forthcoming launch of news channels Times Radio, GB News and News UK TV and the “increasing thirst for a diversity of opinions” in the UK.

“Freedom of expression is vital to our democracy. This informs every decision we take on content and is one of the key responsibilities given to us by Parliament,” he said.  

“Our rules are clear that broadcasters are free to include controversial, shocking, radical or offensive content. They may wish to interview people with extreme or challenging views in news and current affairs coverage, which is clearly in the public interest.”