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17 March 2022

Calls Grow For Digital Markets Unit Legislation

Michael Fabricant has become the latest MP to call on government to bring forward the legislation to give the Digital Markets Unit the powers it needs to tackle competition issues posed by the tech platforms.

Mr Fabricant’s intervention follows calls by the former Justice Secretary Sir Robert Buckland MP and former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale MP to urgently put the DMU on a statutory footing.  

In written questions to the Culture Secretary, Mr Fabricant asked what the timetable is for bringing forward the necessary legislation and, in a separate question to the Business Secretary, Mr Fabricant asked what discussions had taken place between BEIS and DCMS officials to give the DMU the powers it needs.   

In a question in the Lords this week, Lord Dubs asked the government "what steps they are taking to ensure a level playing field is established by legislative and regulatory means to allow UK news publishers to negotiate for proper and fair payment by technology companies for the news content they generate."

Responding on behalf of the government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Arts Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: "Newspapers play an invaluable role in the fabric of our society and the Government is committed to considering all possible options in the interest of supporting the sustainability of the press.

"We understand concerns about the effect of the power and position of some online platforms when dealing with news publishers, as was identified by the Cairncross Review.

"The Government set out its proposals for a new pro-competition regime for digital markets in a public consultation in July 2021. The regime will drive a more vibrant and innovative economy across the UK.

"In line with codes proposed in the Cairncross Review, the regime's conduct requirements will improve competition and transparency and make an important contribution to the sustainability of the press.

"We have also sought advice from the Competition and Markets Authority and Ofcom on how the regime would govern the relationship between platforms and content producers including news publishers. No final decisions have been made.

"A consultation response will be published in due course and we will legislate to put the regime on a statutory footing as soon as parliamentary time allows."

The News Media Association has said the legislation is urgently required to tackle the impact of the tech platforms’ business practices on news media and journalism.

Speaking in a Publishing Show panel session, NMA chief executive Owen Meredith called for Ministers to bring forward legislation “early in the next Parliamentary session.”

The government is expected to publish its response to a consultation on the new regulatory regime for the digital markets in the coming weeks.

“This should be a landmark moment, and it is vital that Ministers use this opportunity to pave the way for legislation early in the next Parliamentary session, with a Digital Competition Bill,” Owen said.

“Ministers must now play their part in defending our right to access trusted journalism with bold, forward-looking legislation which creates the right conditions for journalism to not just survive, but thrive, making the UK a world-leader in this important field.”