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13 February 2020

Online Harms: NMA Calls For ‘Explicit Exemption’ For Journalism

The new regime to tackle online harms propagated by the tech giants must include an explicit exemption on the face of any legislation for news media publishers and their journalism in order to avoid curbs to free speech, the News Media Association has said.  

In a statement on the Government’s initial response to the online harms consultation, the NMA cited “clear and unequivocal assurances” by Ministers that journalistic content will not fall within the scope of the new regime.

The News Media Association said: “The Government’s response suggests that safeguards will be built into the legislation to protect the role of a free press. It acknowledges the widespread freedom of expression concerns raised by the white paper and views of the NMA and other press freedom and media organisations that journalistic content should not be put in scope, to protect freedom of expression and in accordance with established convention of press regulation.

“The NMA notes that the government intends to specify the services which fall within the scope of the new regime.

“Both the current Culture Secretary and her predecessor have given clear and unequivocal assurances that journalistic content will not fall within the scope of the new regime, which is designed to crack down on online harms propagated by the tech giants.

“We expect therefore that the next steps for the Government will include making an explicit exemption on the face of any legislation for news media publishers and their journalism which underpins our democracy.”

Publishers already have systems in place to address user generated content concerns, backed up by transparent industry wide standards and enforced by an industry-wide regulator, commended by Government.

In exempting news publishers, the Government would simply recognise the well-established systems that publishers in membership of the NMA already have in place to address user generated content on their sites, as well as the content generated by their journalists and other contributors.

In its original submission to the Online Harms White Paper consultation, the NMA called for a complete exemption to be written into the legislation in order to fulfil the government’s assurances.

Otherwise publishers would be placed in “double jeopardy of censorship and sanction” as both user generated content on their own websites and journalistic content distributed via the social networks would be directly impacted.

In a leader this morning, The Times called for Ministers to “be braver” in introducing reforms to crack down on the tech giants.  The Times said: “The internet has unleashed vast new freedoms. It is also a wild west in which miscreants can do a great deal of damage. The government is, in response, considering tough new sanctions for social media companies that fail to stop such ‘online harms.’

“Key decisions on what those sanctions might be and how a regulator might be funded were due to be announced yesterday morning. Yet, amid a backlash from tech giants, they have now been postponed until spring. This delay is not good enough when the safety of so many is at stake. Ministers must be braver.

“It is, besides, difficult to make the case that there should be one rule for old media and another for newer forms. Newspapers and news websites are responsible for what they publish. Broadcasters have long protected children by observing watersheds. The internet is a larger terrain but this is no excuse for letting it run wild. Ministers should not be bullied into letting tech companies shirk responsibility for the darker forces that lurk on their platforms.”