IPSO Blog: Government responds to Online Harms consultation

Communications Manager Vikki Julian shares some thoughts on the response.

This week the government published its initial response to last year’s Online Harms consultation.

The consultation followed publication of the Online Harms White Paper, which set out plans for a new system of oversight for tech companies and a new regulatory framework aimed at keeping UK internet users, particularly children, safer from a range of harms online.

IPSO made a submission to the consultation which outlined concerns around regulatory duplication, unintended consequences for freedom of expression and some of the challenges presented by the complexity and changing nature of the online environment. Our response made clear that newspapers and magazines who are members of IPSO were already accountable to an independent, external regulator.

The Secretary of State made reassurances at the time that journalistic or editorial content would not be affected by any new regulatory framework. It was pleasing to see that the consultation response had a strong focus on protecting freedom of expression and that “appropriate safeguards” to protect it would be included in any future legislation.

IPSO’s regulation covers the majority of newspapers and magazines in the UK, including their online versions, under the Editors’ Code of Practice. This includes online user-generated comments “below the line” of an article. User-generated comments that are pre-moderated before being published online are considered to have gone through a process of editorial control, and would generally fall under the terms of the Editors' Code. Where comments are not pre-moderated, if problematic comments have been brought to a publication's attention (usually through a ‘report’ mechanism) and remain online, they are then considered to have gone through a process of editorial control. IPSO can then consider complaints about user-generated material, after they have been reviewed or moderated by the publication. This blog explains more about how we regulate user-generated content.

I was particularly interested to read the response’s commentary around annual transparency reporting, particularly as IPSO-regulated publishers are already committed to a system of transparency reporting through our annual statements system. Under their legally enforceable contracts with us, publishers are obliged to submit a yearly report outlining their approach to editorial standards, complaints handling, training, and details of upheld complaints within the relevant period and their response to these.

The government’s commitment to a media literacy strategy is also welcome and IPSO looks forward to its publication later in the year. As one of the biggest content regulators in the UK, we are supportive of initiatives to improve media literacy and keen to contribute to the discussions in this area.

We want all citizens to have appropriate levels of media literacy to make informed decisions about what sorts of news they would like to access. They should be able to identify and avoid harmful fake news, and know how to identify curated and edited content displaying high-quality journalism. We would also expect consumers to have awareness of the methods available to seek redress from the regulated press when journalists do get things wrong.

Certainly, there are many challenges to implementing proposals designed to make the internet safer. Where new regulatory frameworks are created, care must be taken to avoid regulatory duplication or overly burdensome regulation – whilst also ensuring that freedom of expression is properly protected.