Online Safety Bill: Government Must Continue To Protect Press Freedom

The vital protections for press freedom in the Online Safety Bill must be maintained when the legislation is reintroduced to Parliament, the News Media Association’s legal director, Sayra Tekin told a Westminster Media Forum conference this week.

“We do not want to see dilution of the protections for press freedom that the Bill provides. It is vital that the freedom of press is safeguarded and that the right of the public to receive news material is also protected,” she said.

“It is also critical to ensure that the platforms do not moderate news publishers’ content, and that there are no barriers to news publication in the UK.

“At the moment, the current draft of the Bill achieves that. Any amendments through Parliament must be very protective of these principles.”

Sayra also stressed the importance of ensuring that “tech platforms, Ofcom and the government through the back door, do not become any kind of state regulator for the press.”

Sayra spoke of three key ways in which journalistic content can be protected through the Bill. She said: “The first is that news publisher content is exempt from the new online safety duties, which disincentivises platforms to remove news publisher content as they will receive sanctions from Ofcom.

“The second point is that the majority of news publishers are already held accountable through the regulator IPSO and adhere to the editorial codes of conduct. Therefore we do not need an additional layer of regulation from government. Both Ofcom and tech platforms will need to have systems in place to take account of the importance of freedom of expression.

“Thirdly, it is important that news content remains out of scope for below the line comments – this is a really important safeguard. As we’ve already established, below the line comments are already subject to editorial control. If comments are defamatory, or any way harmful content, there is already a structure in place through IPSO or editorial.”

Sayra also added that calls for government to publish a list of who it considered to be a recognised news publisher would “certainly create a barrier for new entrants” to the industry and would amount to “a state-sponsored press – antithetical to any functioning democracy.”