The Government has today published the final version of the Online Safety Bill which, through specific exemptions, puts the rights and interests of the press above those of the public.
The Bill will require citizens’ posts on social media platforms (like Facebook and Twitter), to be regulated – but anything posted by a “newspaper” will be exempt. Extremist publications may also be able to take advantage of this exemption. Additionally, newspaper comment sections are exempt from being considered as social media platforms under the bill and will thereby escape accountability altogether. The bill reforms malicious communication offences, which newspapers will also be exempt from.
Commenting, Hacked Off Chief Executive Nathan Sparkes said,
Press exemptions in the Online Safety Bill published today will result in individuals’ social media accounts being regulated more than the accounts of the Daily Mail and other national newspapers.
The Government apparently believes that the rights of Murdoch and other newspaper owners are worth more than those of the public. This is unfair, irrational, and is likely to undermine the entire bill, with the definition of a “newspaper” open to abuse from extremist publications.
Commenting on the complete exemption for newspaper comment sections, Sparkes added,
In offering a total exemption to anything posted in a newspaper comment section, Boris Johnson’s Government is giving the green light to misogyny, racism and other forms of abuse so long as it appears under a newspaper article. This is an appalling failure to protect the public from serious harm.
These exemptions render the bill weak, irrational and ultimately incapable of protecting the public from online harms. Damaged legislation like this is the price paid by the public for this government’s unhealthy relationship with the press.