An amendment to the Online Safety Bill that would protect specialist media publishers was debated in the Public Bill Committee scrutinising the Bill on Tuesday (June 14).
SNP Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport John Nicolson MP argued that ‘special interest news material’ – consisting of news or information about a particular pastime, hobby, trade, business, industry or profession – should be given equal protection to the content produced by current affairs-focused national newspapers. The amendment was also backed by Labour Shadow Minister Alex Davies-Jones.
Conservative Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Chris Philp responded to Nicolson’s arguments, stating that freedom of expression concerns may be less relevant to specialist titles, and that ‘below the line’ comments on specialist publishers’ websites would still be protected in the Bill.
The amendment was not taken forward by the Committee - despite cross-party support from Labour and the SNP, the Conservative majority on the Committee makes Ministerial support practically essential.
The PPA was disappointed to hear Philp’s opposition to the amendment, as it is clear that specialist media publishers produce expert public interest content on a range of topics.
Further, the trusted content on a range of topics produced by independently regulated PPA members will be key in combating the broad range of harms that the Bill seeks to address. Indeed, Philp’s Conservative colleague and former Cabinet Minister John Whittingdale has raised the issue twice in the House of Commons.
This follows a recommendation by the Joint Committee of MPs and peers following scrutiny of the Draft Bill that stated: ‘We are concerned that some consumer and business magazines, and academic journals, may not be covered by the Clause  exemptions. We recommend that the Department consult with the relevant industry bodies to see how the exemption might be amended to cover this of, without creating loopholes in the legislation.’