Amendment 124

Part of Online Safety Bill - Committee (8th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 23 May 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Chair, Communications and Digital Committee, Chair, Communications and Digital Committee 10:00, 23 May 2023

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Allan, has clearly and comprehensively painted a picture of the complex world in which we now live, and I do not think that anybody can disagree with that or deny it. We are in a world which is going to keep evolving; we have talked in lots of other contexts about the pace of change, and so on. However, in recognising all that, what the noble Lord has just described—the need for constant evaluation of whether this regime is working effectively—is a job for Parliament, not for Ofcom. That is where I come back to in starting my response to this group of amendments.

Briefly—in order that we can get to the wind-ups and conclude business for the day—ensuring that recognised news publishers and organisations are not subject to Ofcom or any form of state regulation is a vital principle. I am pleased that the Government have included the safeguards which they have in the legislation, while also making it much harder for the tech platforms to restrict the freedom of recognised news publishers and users’ access to them.

I reiterate that I understand that this is becoming increasingly complicated, but these are important principles. We have to start in the world that we currently understand and know, ensure that we protect those publications which we recognise as trusted news providers now, and do not give way on those principles. As my noble friend Lord Black said, regarding debates about Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, there will be an opportunity to re-evaluate that in due course when we come to the media Bill. For what it is worth, my personal view is that I support the Government’s intention to remove it.

The only other thing I would add is that as far as the accountability of news publishers is concerned, I, too, think this is important. It is an important element of their proper editorial oversight that they control and oversee online comments sections and that they are subject to the same sort of self-regulation and regulation by IPSO as has been described. However, it is also important to say to these news publishers and any organisations that rely on the support and continued use and subscription of their users that they ought to have in place good-quality customer service regimes. If people want to raise complaints and concerns, not necessarily just about content but about the way in which they manage their subscriptions, their inability to cancel their subscriptions or indeed a demand for a more flexible approach to their subscriptions, I would like to see much better accountability in the way that these organisations look after and service the people who are their readers. The future of news publishers ultimately relies on them meeting the expectations of their readers and giving voice to the perspective of their readers, and for as long as they do that, I think they should enjoy the freedom to operate without statutory control, and therefore I do not support the amendments in this group.