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SoE broadly welcomes Online Harms proposals and exemption for news media

Posted on: December 15, 2020 by Mariella Brown

The Society of Editors (SoE) has broadly welcomed the government’s proposals for new Online Harms regulations which aim to protect the public and also free speech in the UK.

The government’s proposals announced today provide an exemption from the new regulations for the media for articles and comments carried on recognised news websites. 

The proposals also aim to ensure media content carried on social media sites will be exempt. However, the SoE said this morning such aims will be difficult to achieve and urged the government to ensure the digital giants ringfenced legitimate media content as they sought to adhere to the new regulations.

“Throughout the consultations on the proposed Online Harms laws the Society of Editors and mainstream media have argued that with its adherence to high editorial standards and existing strong regulatory bodies there was no need to include the mainstream media in new regulations. We are pleased the government has recognised this fact,” said SoE executive director Ian Murray.

“The mainstream media has campaigned strongly for protection for children and the vulnerable from harmful online content as well as combatting terrorist and criminal activities. It is gratifying to see these measures being proposed with online businesses and platforms required to have a ‘duty of care’ to protect children from cyberbullying, grooming and pornography.

“The government’s assurances that media content even when carried on social media platforms will be protected is welcome, however the devil will be in the detail. The digital platforms when faced with huge fines for non-adherence to the new regulations may resort to the use of sweeping algorithms to remove content deemed as harmful. Such measures must have in-built protection for legitimate media content,” added Murray.

On the wider issue of freedom of speech – something the SoE campaigns on behalf – Murray said while a clampdown on dangerous misinformation was welcome, particularly with regard to the current Covid-19 vaccines and other health-related matters, care must be taken not to stifle free speech and silence debate.

“A vibrant free media providing balanced, researched, edited news and information remains the best antidote to fake news and misinformation,” added Murray.

The proposals will be announced in the Commons later today. More information is available in the government release here.