UK: Online harms proposals will impact press freedom

Digital 3 min read
ARTICLE 19

ARTICLE 19 has responded to claims by the Digital and Culture Secretary, Jeremy Wright, that proposals in the Online Harms White Paper proposal will “not affect press freedom” and that “the press and media as a whole are not the target of any new regulation in this area”.

Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, Thomas Hughes said:

“Jeremy Wright’s comments suggest a limited understanding of the highly complex and diverse nature of the online media environment and how this will be seriously affected by the Government’s proposals.

“We reiterate our concerns that in the White Paper, the Government has delivered an extremely short-sighted and damaging proposal for freedom of expression online in the UK and beyond. This is likely to create even further legal uncertainty with regards to press regulation in the UK.”

The scope of the Online Harms White Paper is extremely broad: it explicitly states that it will include platforms which ‘allow users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other online’.

This means that all media outlets, big and small, with users’ comments will be automatically considered platforms under the proposed model of regulation. The comments sections typically enable the users to interact, comment on and discuss the issues presented in media.

The Government claims that they will not “duplicate efforts” regarding users comments on media outlets sites. However, it does not clarify how this will be done in practice. The definition of social media platforms clearly indicates otherwise. ARTICLE 19 is concerned that this might force media outlets to simply prevent users from posting comments on their website altogether. This, in turn, will have a devastating effect upon the free and open exchange of ideas online – comments enable and promote public debate in its purest form. The comments feature has also proved to be a valuable resource for newspapers and now forms part of their business model.

Contact

For further information, contact Pam Cowburn, [email protected], 07749 785 932.

Notes to Editor

ARTICLE 19 is a freedom of expression organisation that campaigns for a world where all people everywhere can freely express themselves and actively engage in public life without fear of discrimination.

Wright’s comments were made in a letter to the Society of Editors

ARTICLE 19’s initial response to the Online Harms White Paper is here