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10 September 2020

Whittingdale: Online Harms Regime Will Not Seek To Duplicate Existing Regulation

The new regime to crack down on online harms propagated by the tech giants will not seek to duplicate existing regulation on moderated comment sections on news sites, Culture Minister John Whittingdale said yesterday.

Responding to a question from Emma Hardy MP, Labour, about the effect of the online harms regime on newspaper comment forums, Mr Whittingdale said: “The Government is committed to independent self-regulation of the press.

“Complaints about user-generated comments on news websites can be directed to the publication itself, or to the appropriate self-regulator. The majority of traditional publishers—including 95 per cent of national newspapers by circulation—are members of IPSO. A small number of publishers have joined IMPRESS.”

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.

Last week Julian Knight MP, the chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, wrote to Mr Whittingdale calling on Ministers to ensure that attempts by Home Office lawyers to “censor” mainstream news publications are blocked.

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.