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12 March 2020

Minister: Government Looking At Ways To Exclude Journalistic Content From Online Harms

The Government remains committed to protecting freedom of expression and officials are currently looking at ways in which journalistic content could be excluded from the new online harms regulatory regime, DCMS Minister John Whittingdale has said.   

Mr Whittingdale also confirmed that the Government remained committed to repealing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 – a move which the News Media Association has long been calling for.

In a letter published on the Press Recognition Panel’s website, Mr Whittingdale  said that free press was “one of the pillars of our democratic society” and the Online Harms White Paper “does not seek to prohibit press freedom.”

 Mr Whittingdale said: “As set out in the former Secretary of State’s letter to the Society of Editors, regulation on moderated comment sections on news sites will not be duplicated where these are already well regulated (for example IPSO and IMPRESS’s activity on their members’ moderated comment sections).”

“Officials are currently working with stakeholders to develop proposals for how to exclude journalistic content in practice and would be grateful for your thoughts on this topic. Further details will be published in the full government response later this year.

“The UK supports freedom of expression as both a fundamental right in itself and as an essential element of a full range of human rights. Freedom of expression is therefore at the heart of our approach, and why an independent regulator would have to take due regard of freedom of expression and privacy before taking any action.”

The NMA has called for an explicit exemption on the face of any legislation for news media publishers and their journalism in order to avoid curbs to free speech.

In the letter, Mr Whittingdale said that the Government was “committed” to repealing Section 40 following a public consultation on the issue.