The Media Reform Coalition is today publishing a Briefing that includes a summary of the historical context and key debates concerning the government’s Online Safety Bill ahead of its second reading in Spring 2022. The analysis draws on the UK Media Influence Matrix report, exploring the impact of shifts in policy, funding and contemporary journalism, that was published in December 2021.
The Briefing, written by Professor Julian Petley, concludes that the online world, although a peerless information and communication resource, is also, rightly, the object of considerable concern. It is dominated by a handful of over-mighty companies which have shown themselves to be entirely unwilling to engage in effective self-regulation which would help to rid the internet of its most obnoxious and harmful contents. The presence of such contents, however, should not be used as a reason to impose a regulatory structure which is ill-thought out, gives the government of the day an unacceptable degree of power over the online world, is hugely bureaucratic and threatens to make the burgeoning UK tech industry a global outlier.
We recommend the following action points:
- Abolish the “legal but harmful” category. If material is genuinely harmful – in terms which need to be very precisely defined in the Bill – it should be made illegal by primary (and not secondary) legislation.
Insist that what is legal offline is also legal online.
- Remove the press exemption. All newspaper content should be treated in exactly the same way as other online content.
- Considerably reduce the powers that the Bill grants the Secretary of State.
- Ensure that nothing is included in the Bill which threatens online encryption or other aspects of users’ information privacy.
- Ensure that any form of online regulation proposed is compatible with regulation in the US and EU.
You can read the full Briefing HERE.
Previous Briefings includes one on a media policy agenda for 2022 and one on the recent BBC licence fee settlement. Future ones will be published on the privatisation of Channel 4 and on the funding of public interest journalism and working conditions.