OSB: MPs Call For Stronger Protections For Freedom Of Expression

An influential committee of MPs has voiced “urgent concerns” that protections for freedom of expression in the Online Safety Bill are inadequate and should be strengthened.

The News Media Association welcomed the DCMS Select Committee’s recommendation to strengthen protections for journalistic content in the new regime to tackle harms online.

In its report ‘The Draft Online Safety Bill and the legal but harmful debate,’ the Committee said it had “urgent concerns” that the Bill “neither adequately protects freedom of expression nor is clear and robust enough to tackle the various types of illegal and harmful content on user-to-user and search services.”

“We recommend that the Government reframes the language around considerations for freedom of expression to incorporate a ‘must balance’ test so Ofcom can interrogate and assess whether providers have duly balanced their freedom of expression obligations with their decision making,” the Committee added.

The NMA has warned that the news publisher content exemption must be “watertight and fit for purpose” to ensure that journalistic content is adequately protected.

In December, the Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill recommended that existing protections around journalistic content and content of democratic importance should be replaced by a single statutory requirement to have proportionate systems and process to protect “content where there are reasonable grounds to believe it will be in the public interest.”

In a debate on the report, MPs urged the government to adopt its recommendations, adding that freedom of speech protections should run “like a golden thread through the Bill.”