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New online safety Bill 'doesn't do enough to guard UK Press freedom'

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has admitted that new internet laws to be published later this week do not do enough to protect legitimate news content from censorship by tech giants.

New Online Safety Bill ‘doesn’t do enough to protect freedom of the press’… but Dorries says she’ll ensure free speech isn’t censored by tech giants technology

  • Concerns have been raised that the new law does not protect legitimate media
  • News bosses fear tech giants will remove valid content to avoid sanction risks
  • Dorries said she would never pursue laws that ‘threaten free speech’

Nadine Dorries has admitted that tough new internet laws to be released later this week do not do enough to protect legitimate news content from censorship by tech giants.

The Culture Secretary promised the Government would fix the issue, saying it had ‘every intention’ of improving requirements for platforms such as Facebook and Google not to remove content from recognized media organisations.

News publishers have campaigned for a full exemption from the Online Safety Bill since its white paper was launched three years ago.

They fear the latest version of the bill does not appear to meet a recommendation by MPs for an amendment to protect press freedom.

The joint parliamentary committee that reviewed the bill said it should include a ban on tech companies blocking news content unless it violates criminal law.

Although the bill provides an explicit exemption for news sites and their comment sections, it does not apply when news content appears on social media or in searches.

One of the most controversial elements of the legislation is the requirement for tech giants to remove “lawful but harmful” content from their platforms or face stiff penalties.

There are fears that this will lead platforms to set their algorithms too narrowly to avoid fines or even criminal penalties – and in the process eliminate legitimate journalism.

As it stands, platforms must offer a fast-track appeal process to re-upload journalistic content if it is inadvertently removed.

But editors warned that with breaking news so fast, any blocked article would be redundant by the time it was reinstated.

There are fears that the rules for tech giants could push platforms to set their algorithms too tightly to avoid fines or even criminal penalties – and in the process bring down legitimate journalism

There are fears that the rules for tech giants could push platforms to set their algorithms too tightly to avoid fines or even criminal penalties – and in the process bring down legitimate journalism

They also fear that the accelerated process could be blocked by an avalanche of calls if the algorithms are too strict.

DAILY MAIL COMMENT: Threat to a free press

Never have the press and free media been more important than at this pivotal moment in European history.

As Vladimir Putin launches a smokescreen of fake news to mask his barbaric war on Ukraine, Western journalists are daily risking their lives and physical integrity to tell the real story. Their exploits remind us that freedom of expression is not a given. It must be cherished and fought for.

Even here in Britain, the free press is under threat. The revised Online Safety Bill due to be published on Thursday is designed to make social media companies accountable for tackling illegal content and protecting children from harm online.

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But despite all its undeniable good intentions, it contains a very dangerous flaw.

Algorithms used by tech giants to remove harmful content could also block the online output of bona fide news outlets. For example, legitimate stories about terrorism or child abuse could be blocked by default, with a crushing effect on press freedom.

Fortunately, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries acknowledges the problem and says she has “every intention of further improving the requirements for platforms not to remove content from recognized media”.

This welcome acknowledgment must be followed by detailed proposals for changes to the bill. In an ideal world, legitimate online news outlets would be completely excluded. Otherwise, they must be fully protected against inadvertent censorship.

We simply cannot let algorithms dreamed up in Silicon Valley dictate what the British public should and should not be allowed to know.

News industry chiefs fear that while the existing bill would impose no obligation on platforms to censor news outlets, there was also no “compulsion” for them to don’t do it.

They warned that the bill would have a disastrous effect on journalists’ freedom of expression and called for an exemption of all recognized media content.

Yesterday Miss Dorries promised she and Boris Johnson would ‘never pursue legislation that threatens free speech’.

Writing on the ConservativeHome website, she said: “Journalists will have an expedited right to redress if their content is removed.

“And I fully intend to further improve the requirements for platforms not to remove recognized media content upon passage of the bill.”

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Last night a newspaper executive said: ‘Social media sites will have to algorithmically control everything, which they will define as carefully as possible – especially since those responsible could face criminal penalties.’

“Algorithms don’t understand context – they can’t necessarily distinguish between a terrorist video and a report on a terrorist incident.

“The fear is that completely legitimate news content will be taken down, and woke tech executives in California will decide what news the British public can and cannot read.”

But Miss Dorries, a novelist herself, insisted the bill would uphold freedom of speech and ‘the invaluable role of a free press’. She wrote: “The day this legislation takes effect, there will be dramatically stronger protections for free speech. There are no additional protections for online journalists. Under this bill, there will be.

“It is important for me to find the right balance. I am a writer and before becoming a government minister I spent years as an extremely vocal backbench MP.

The Prime Minister is a former journalist. We will never pursue legislation that threatens freedom of expression.

She added, “Nor can we maintain the current status quo, where a handful of West Coast leaders are the ultimate arbiters of online discourse.”

In its report, the joint committee reviewing the bill said: “We recommend that the news publishers’ content exemption be strengthened to include a requirement that news publishers’ content must not not be moderated, restricted or removed, unless it is content the publication of which clearly constitutes a crime”. violation, or which has been declared illegal by order of a court.

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