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17 December 2020

Online Harms: NMA Welcomes Government Commitment To Protect Press Freedom  

The News Media Association has welcomed the Government’s commitment to protect press freedom by exempting news media content from the new regime to crack down on online harms propagated by the tech giants. 

The NMA has successfully lobbied for comprehensive exemption for news media content, both on publishers' own websites and on social media platforms, and for below-the-line comments on articles on news publishers’ sites.

The Government’s response confirms that content and articles published on news media websites will be out of scope of the new regime and that below-the-line comments on articles on news publishers’ sites will be “explicitly exempted” from it.

The legislation will also include “robust protections” for “journalistic content shared on in-scope services.”

The NMA said: “The NMA has consistently called for an exemption for news media content from the new online harms regime and we welcome the fact that the Government has taken this on board by committing to protect press freedom.

“As work continues to legislate for and implement the new regime, it is essential that this commitment to protect press freedom continues to be robustly applied to ensure that freedom of speech is not negatively impacted in any way.”

In its response to the Online Harms White Paper, published on Tuesday, the Government stressed the importance of “defending the invaluable role of a free media and is clear that online safety measures must do this.”

The new regime will introduce a new “duty of care” obliging the tech platforms to protect users from illegal content such as child sexual abuse and terrorism, with penalties of up to £18 million or 10 per cent of global annual turnover for non-compliance.

The NMA will now continue to engage with the Government and the relevant authorities such as Ofcom – which was named as the independent regulator to oversee and enforce compliance with the new duty of care - and the Law Commission as the legislation passes through Parliament to ensure that the new measures do not impact upon press freedom.

The response also says that DCMS is to launch a public consultation on the regulation of online advertising in the first half of 2021. It references the Government’s proposal for a total ban on HFSS advertising online and states that, while it will “seek to avoid duplication,” some types of advertising will still fall in scope of the online harms regulatory framework.

The Advertising Standards Authority will remain responsible for overseeing the regulation of advertising.