The Society of Editors has welcomed the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s final report into disinformation and “fake news” and its recommendations that the validity of trusted media sources lies at the heart of our democracy.
However, while acknowledging steps need to be taken to negate the impact of fake news, we must be wary of rushing to create regulations that may damage freedom of expression.
The Commons committee which led the enquiry proposed a new code of ethics which would set out what is and isn’t acceptable on social media. This proposed code of ethics would be overseen by an independent regulator and would have the power to launch legal action against companies that breach its guidelines into illegal content.
“While it is of little doubt that fake news, whether created through malice or mischievous intent, damages our society, we must be careful that steps we now take to regulate the social media giants do not end up damaging the freedoms we hold dear,” said Society of Editors Executive Director, Ian Murray.
“As our law makers now consider a code of practice for the digital giants and how best to regulate that code, it is important that we ask the question, who decides what is fake news and how will that be regulated? We must not fool ourselves that there won’t be those who see this as a backdoor to regulating what the media is allowed to report on a range of topics. Therefore, every effort must be made to ensure safeguards are in place that ensure freedom of expression remains at the heart of our democracy while those who seek to cause harm through disinformation and fake news are prevented from doing so.”
The report into disinformation and fake news comes hard on the heels of the Cairncross review which the Society of Editors welcomed but also expressed caution over its calls to regulate sections of the internet.
“With so many of our newspapers now also online there is a real risk that well-meaning, but overbearing, regulation aimed at the digital giants will come to affect what can be published online by the mainstream media. If this happens then we must ensure that the same safeguards that are in place to protect a free press in the United Kingdom today also apply to the press’s online presence going into the future” added Murray.