OSB: Government Confirms Amendment To Strengthen Free Speech Protections

The government has confirmed that the Online Safety Bill will be amended to make sure that journalistic content cannot be removed from tech platforms until “a proper right of appeal” has taken place.

During the second reading of the Bill on Tuesday, MPs stressed the importance of strengthening protection for journalistic content to ensure that the new regime does not inadvertently chill freedom of speech.

Damian Green MP asked the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries to confirm that access to journalistic content would not be restricted by the tech platforms under the new regime.  He said: “One of the most important national assets that needs protecting in this Bill and elsewhere is our reputation for serious journalism.

“Will she therefore confirm that, as she has said outside this House, she intends to table amendments during the passage of the Bill that will ensure that platforms and search engines that have strategic market status protect access to journalism and content from recognised news publishers, ensuring that it is not moderated, restricted or removed without notice or right of appeal, and that those news websites will be outside the scope of the Bill?”

John Whittingdale MP pointed out the platforms already censored journalistic content – citing the example of YouTube taking down the talkRadio channel – and welcomed the progress made to strengthen protections.

He said: “The Secretary of State made some very welcome comments on, I think, ‘This Morning’ about the introduction of an additional protection so that, if a journalist’s shared content were removed from an online platform, they would need to be informed and able to appeal. That may require additional amendments to the Bill, so perhaps the Minister could say when we are likely to see those.

“There is also the concern raised by the periodical publishers that specialist magazines appear to be outside the protection of journalistic content. I hope that that can be addressed, because there are publications that deserve the same level of protection.”

DCMS Minister Chris Philp MP responded: “As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State indicated in opening the debate, we intend to table a Government amendment—a point that my right hon. Friends the Members for Maldon [John Whittingdale] and and for Ashford [Damian Green] asked me to confirm—to make sure that journalistic content cannot be removed until a proper right of appeal has taken place. I am pleased to confirm that now.”

The News Media Association has welcomed commitments from the Culture Secretary to strengthen the exemption for news publishers’ content in the Bill and will monitor the progress of the Bill closely as it makes its passage through Parliament.