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28 May 2020

Online Harms: Robust Exemption For News Media Publishers Is Vital

A robust exemption on the face of any legislation for news media from the online harms regime is essential to ensure a bright future for journalism beyond the coronavirus crisis, the News Media Association has said.   

In response to a Home Affairs Committee call for evidence on online harms during the pandemic, and the adequacy of the Government’s proposed new regime, the NMA called for pre-legislative scrutiny on all draft legislation and other relevant material.

The NMA cited repeated assurances from Ministers and senior officials that journalism would not be caught up by the new proposals.     

“The Covid-19 crisis has underlined the importance of the independent news sector and the public demand for verified, accurate information from trusted sources is evidenced by the expanded audiences for news publishers’ news services and vitality and intensity of reader engagement,” the NMA said.

“The local, regional and national news publishers are determined to maintain their lively, strong, independent journalism through the course of the pandemic and beyond. However, the crisis and measures to counteract it led to immediate, drastic drop in the advertising revenues which fund such journalism.”

“The NMA and industry have therefore briefed government on the range of short term, medium term and long term measures which would help to sustain the journalism of the local, regional and national news media during the immediate crisis, through to the recovery period and beyond.”

However, it is essential that the broader challenges posed by the tech companies and online platforms to news publishers’ business models are addressed in order to ensure a sustainable future for journalism beyond the current crisis.

The NMA has put forward proposals to correct the imbalance, recently outlined in its submission to the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee's inquiry into the future of journalism, and held ongoing discussions with Government and regulators including the Competition and Markets Authority and Information Commissioners Office.

The Government should promote reliable news sources to counter disinformation and avoid keyword blocking on coronavirus content as well as introduce a robust exemption for news media from the online harms regime on the face of any legislation, as repeatedly called for by the NMA.

The NMA stressed the importance of ongoing detailed and close consultation on the proposals for the online harms regime, as these are developed including pre-legislative scrutiny on all draft legislation and other regulatory material, including guidance, relevant to the new regime.