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24 February 2022

Whittingdale: Essential For DMU To Have Statutory Backing

Former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale MP has said this week that it is “essential” for the Digital Markets Unit to be given statutory backing so it can set a level playing field between news media publishers and the tech platforms.

The News Media Association welcomed recent reports that work on legislation, modelled on the Australia system, to put the DMU on a statutory footing was underway.

NMA chief executive Owen Meredith said that urgent legislation was vital to ensuring that the new regime brings “unfair and unsustainable imbalance of power to an end once and for all, ensuring consumers have access to trusted sources of news and information online.” 

Responding to a Parliamentary question from Mr Whittingdale this week, BEIS Parliamentary Under-Secretary George Freeman MP said that DCMS would take the lead on the new laws but BEIS was “tightening up” on the intellectual property provisions and “minded to proceed” with that legislation.

 Mr Whittingdale said: “While I welcome the establishment of the Digital Markets Unit, does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that it should be given statutory backing if it is to set a level playing field between publishers and platforms?

“Can he confirm that it is still the Government’s intention to introduce that legislation early in the next Session?”

In an interview with Press Gazette to mark the one-year anniversary of Australia’s Parliament passing legislation to level the playing field between publishers and the tech platforms, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Rod Sims said the new regime had achieved a lot but there were still issues to be resolved.

Sims said he was unhappy that Meta has refused to do deals with the Special Broadcasting Service and The Conversation and that Meta could be at risk of being designated as having strategic market status as a result.

Asked whether other countries would adopt legislation based on the Australian model, Sims responded: “I don’t know.”

“Google and Facebook will lobby very hard. They are very powerful and they do employ a lot of lobbyists. They were employing just about every lobbyist in Canberra when this was going on. So, look, don’t underestimate their ability – their political influence.”