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14 January 2022

MPs Urge Government To Adopt OSB Bill Joint Committee Recommendations

MPs have welcomed the Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill's report and urged the government to adopt its recommendations.

MPs said yesterday that the government’s commitment to protecting free speech should run “like a golden thread through the Bill.”

Introducing the debate, Joint Committee Chair Damian Collins MP said an obligation for the regulator to uphold principles of freedom of expression had to be included within the new regime. 

“It is important that effective action should be taken against hate speech, extremism, illegal content and all harmful content that is within the scope of the Bill, but if companies are removing content that has every right to be there - where the positive expression of people’s opinions has every right to be online - then the regulator should have the power to intervene in that direction as well,” he said.

Chair of the DCMS Select Committee Julian Knight MP said: “I support the Joint Committee’s work on journalistic content, and its recommendation that existing protections relating to journalistic content and content of democratic importance should be replaced by a single statutory requirement for proportionate systems and processes to protect ‘content where there are reasonable grounds to believe it will be in the public interest.’”

When it was published in December, the News Media Association welcomed the report, in particular the Committee’s recommendation to strengthen exemptions for news publishers and journalistic content, and urged government to adopt all of its recommendations.  

The NMA said it looks forward to working with policymakers to ensure that the news publisher content exemption is “watertight and fit for purpose.”

Welcoming the report yesterday, Former Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright MP said the Joint Committee  had done MPs “a huge favour” by suggesting ways in which the Bill could be made more straightforward and more focused on its overall objectives.

Matt Warman MP warned that the Bill could impinge upon freedom of speech unless robust safeguards were introduced.  “Fundamentally, we need to be clear that the Government’s commitment to protecting free speech runs like a golden thread through the Bill and that the measure will not potentially undermine that,” he said.  

Talking about advertising and the lack of regulation on the tech platforms, Kevin Hollinrake MP warned that the platforms had taken market share in paid-for content away from local newspapers.

“It is therefore crucial that we put those platforms on a fair and level playing field with those other media. I do not think we do that, and we need to be far tougher with these platforms,” he said. “Clearly, they make a huge amount of money, but in many ways they get away with murder in terms of the regulation of their content, in a way that newspapers never would have done.”

John Nicolson, SNP, called on government to adopt “non-partisan, well considered” recommendations within the report.