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16 December 2021

NMA Welcomes Joint Committee On Draft Online Safety Bill's Report

The News Media Association has welcomed the Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill's report and said that it looks forward to working with policymakers to ensure that the news publisher content exemption is “watertight and fit for purpose.”

Chaired by Damian Collins MP, the Committee recommended major changes to the draft legislation which is due to be put to Parliament for approval next year.

The NMA has called for the provisions for an exemption for news publishers to be tightened to ensure that press freedom is not inadvertently damaged by the new regime, which aims to crack down on online harms propagated by the tech platforms.    

Welcoming the report this week, NMA chief executive Owen Meredith said: "We thank members of the Committee for their work on this comprehensive report and welcome its recommendations, which we hope the Government will adopt in full as they redraft the Bill. We are pleased the report acknowledges the critical importance of robust and workable protections for freedom of speech.

“In particular, we welcome the Committee’s recommendation to strengthen exemptions for news publishers and journalistic content from the scope of the new regime.  As the Committee noted, platforms already have a significant impact on UK citizens' access to reputable professional journalism. With these recommendations we hope the Online Safety Bill will start to address this particular challenge.

Citing industry concerns, including those voiced by the NMA, the Committee said it recommended that the news publisher content exemption be strengthened to include a requirement that news publisher content should not be moderated, restricted or removed unless publication “clearly constitutes a criminal offence, or has been found to be unlawful by a court.”

“We are concerned that some consumer and business magazines, and academic journals, may not be covered by the Clause 40 exemptions,” the Committee said. “We recommend that the Department consult with the relevant industry bodies to see how the exemption might be amended to cover this off, without creating loopholes in the legislation.”

The Committee recommended that the 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.”

The report also recommended that paid-for advertising should be brought within  scope of the Online Safety Bill in order to help tackle online fraud and scam ads. The Advertising Standards Authority should have responsibility for regulating the day-today content of adverts or the actions of advertisers and the Bill should set out this division of regulatory responsibility, the Committee added.