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30 May 2019

NMA: ICO’s Age Appropriate Code Could ‘Wreak Havoc’ On News Media

The NMA has strongly objected to the Information Commissioners Office Age Appropriate Design draft code and has called for news media publishers to be excluded from the scope of the code.

In its response to the ICO’s consultation, the NMA said:“Unless amended, the draft code published for consultation by the ICO would undermine the news media industry, its journalism and business innovation online. The ICO draft code would require commercial news media publishers to choose between their online news services being devoid of audience or stripped of advertising, with even editorial content subject to ICO judgment and sanction, irrespective of compliance with general law and codes upheld by the courts and relevant regulators.

“The NMA strongly objects to the ICO’s startling extension of its regulatory remit, the proposed scope of the draft code, including its express application to news websites, its application of the proposed standards to all users in the absence of robust age verification to distinguish adults from under 18-year olds and its restrictions on profiling. The NMA considers that news media publishers and their services should be excluded from scope of the proposed draft Code.”

The NMA’s response continued: “Attracting and retaining audience on news websites, digital editions and online service,  fostering informed  reader relationships, are all vital to the ever evolving development of successful newsbrands and their services, their advertising revenues and their  development of subscription  or other payment or  contribution models, which  fund and sustain the independent press and its journalism.

“There is surely no justification for the ICO to attempt by way of a statutory age appropriate design code, to impose access restrictions fettering adults (and children’s) ability to receive and impart information, or in effect impose ‘pre watershed’ broadcast controls upon the content of all currently  publicly available, free to use, national, regional and local news websites, already compliant with the general law and editorial and advertising codes of practice upheld by IPSO and the ASA.

“In practice, the draft Code would undermine commercial news media publishers’ business models, as audience and advertising would disappear. Adults will be deterred from visiting newspaper websites if they first have to provide age verification details. Traffic and audience will also be reduced if social media and other third parties were deterred from distributing or promoting or linking titles’ lawful, code compliant, content for fear of being accused of promoting content detrimental to some age group in contravention of the Code. Audience measurement would be difficult. It would devastate advertising, since effective relevant personalised advertising will be rendered impossible, and so destroy the vital commercial revenues which actually fund the independent media, its trusted journalism and enable it to innovate and evolve to serve the ever-changing needs of its audience.

“The draft Code’s impact would be hugely damaging to the news industry and wholly counter to the Government’s policy on sustaining high quality, trusted journalism at local, regional, national and international levels.

"Newspapers online content, editorial and advertising practices do not present any danger to children. The ICO has not raised with the industry any evidence of harm, necessitating such drastic restrictions, caused by reading news or service of advertisements where these are compliant with the law and the standards set by specialist media regulators.

"The NMA and its news media members therefore urge revision of the draft Code stressing the necessity for total exemption for news publishers and also  that the Code  should make clear that it permits profiling and practices  which deliver advertising compliant with the current standards upheld by the Advertising Standard Authority."