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03 September 2020

Online Harms: Knight Calls For Exemption For News Publishers

Julian Knight MP has called for an exemption for news publishers from the  online harms regime to ensure that freedom of the press is not damaged by the new regime.

In a letter to Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, the chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said Ministers must ensure that attenpts by  Home Office lawyers to “censor” mainstream news publications must be blocked, The Mail on Sunday reported.

The News Media Association has called repeatedly 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.

Ministers, including two former Culture Secretaries, have given “clear and unequivocal assurances” that journalistic content will not fall within the scope of the new regime which aims to tackle online harms propagated by the tech giants.

The Mail on Sunday reported that Mr Knight had called on Mr Whittingdale to ensure that Ministers in both DCMS and the Home Office should allow an exemption for “authenticated and reliable” news sources.

“One source close to the Ministerial arguments over the proposed laws said: ‘Government lawyers are arguing that the publishers’ exemption would allow just anyone to claim it, so for instance you would have “The Isis Times” being able to distribute beheading videos. That seems implausible to say the least,’” The Mail on Sunday reported.

Mr Knight told Mr Whittingdale that his Committee believed a levy should be introduced in the face of falling revenues for local publications, arguing that local news was "the lifeblood of British journalism."