Whittingdale: Online Harms Regime Will Not Affect Distribution of Journalistic Content

The new regime to crack down on online harms will not impact on distribution of journalistic content on social media platforms. Robust protections will be included in the legislation, John Whittingdale has said.

Speaking at the PPA Leadership Summit yesterday, the Minister for Media and Data said publishers’ own content on their own sites would not be in scope of the new regime and nor would comments on the content.

He added: “But, in addition, robust protections will be included in the legislation to ensure that journalistic content shared on in scope services is not adversely affected.”

“We are continuing to finalise exactly what these protections will look like, but we intend to provide a clear exemption in the legislation for news publishers’ content to ensure that the platforms do not have any incentive to remove it. And to include a positive obligation for companies to have additional safeguards for journalistic content.”

The News Media Association has lobbied for a robust exemption for journalistic content from the new online harms regime, on all the platforms upon which readers consume it, including social media platforms and search engines.  

Mr Whittingdale said the exemption of journalistic content would mean that the Online Safety Bill would not place any new legal requirements on platforms to moderate news publishers’ content. “So effectively it’s the maintenance of the status quo,” he added.

Mr Whittingdale said: “We are aware that news publishers already have concerns about moderation decisions taken by major platforms, so we are going to go further and impose positive obligations on these platforms to safeguard users’ access to journalistic content.

“And these safeguards will ensure that big platforms consider the importance of journalism when undertaking content moderation. And that they can be held to account for the unfounded removal of journalistic content, including with respect to automated moderation tools.  

“Journalists will have swift avenues to appeal the removal of their content to ensure that the public has timely access to it. And Ofcom will be responsible for overseeing platforms’ compliance with the duty to safeguard journalistic content. And we’ll have the full range of enforcement powers to tackle non-compliance.”

Talking about the establishment of the Digital Markets Unit, Mr Whittingdale said: “We are absolutely committed to enhancing the sustainability of journalism. The new unit will support the sustainability of the news publishing industry and will help to rebalance the relationship between publishers and the online platforms on which you increasingly rely.”