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21 January 2021

Whittingdale: Legislation For DMU ‘As Soon As Parliamentary Time Allows’

Government will consult on the new “pro-competition regime” to regulate the tech giants early this year and will legislate as soon as Parliamentary time allows, the Minister for Media and Data John Whittingdale said this week.

The News Media Association welcomed the Government’s response to the Competition and Markets Authority’s market study into online platforms and digital advertising when it was published in November.

But the NMA has called for legislation underpinning the new Digital Markets Unit to be implemented as quickly as possible, warning that delays could see local newspapers go out of business.  

Responding to a question in the Commons from Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne, Mr Whittingdale said this week: “Government has announced the introduction of a new pro competition regime, including an enforceable code for digital platforms with substantial and enduring market power.

“As part of this, we have announced the establishment of a dedicated Digital Markets Unit which will be housed within the Competition and Markets Authority. The DMU will introduce, maintain and enforce the code of conduct.

“The DMU will be set up in non-statutory form in April 2021 to begin to operationalise the new pro-competition regime. Government will consult on the pro-competition regime in early 2021 and legislate to put on a statutory footing as soon as Parliamentary time allows.”

In a speech yesterday on the inauguration of the new President of the United States and the current political situation, President von der Leyen stressed the European Commission’s determination to crack down on the tech giants.

Talking about abuse on social media, she said: “We must make sure that these messages of hate and fake news can no longer be spread unchecked. We must impose democratic limits on the untrammelled and uncontrolled political power of the internet giants.

“As you know, the Commission launched the Digital Services Act and the Digital Market Act in December. Put simply, we want to ensure that, in future, if something is illegal offline it must also be illegal online.

“We want the platforms to be transparent about how their algorithms work. We cannot accept a situation where decisions that have a wide-ranging impact on our democracy are being made by computer programs without any human supervision.

“And we want it laid down clearly that internet companies take responsibility for the content they disseminate. This point is also important to me: No matter how right it may have been for Twitter to switch off Donald Trump's account five minutes after midnight, such serious interference with freedom of expression should be based on laws and not on company rules. It should be based on decisions of parliaments and politicians and not of Silicon Valley managers.”