Amendment 124

Part of Online Safety Bill - Committee (8th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 23 May 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Gohir Baroness Gohir Crossbench 10:15, 23 May 2023

My Lords, I support Amendments 124, 126 and 227. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Lipsey and Lord McNally, for proposing these amendments and I wish them well.

A number of far-right websites already exist across the internet which are capable, with minimal reform, of meeting the requirements to qualify as recognised news publishers and benefit from the exemption. Some of these websites host content from known high-profile racists. These extreme websites feature anti-Semitism, hatred of women and hatred of Muslims. The Centre for Media Monitoring, part of the Muslim Council of Britain, has criticised the Bill’s media exemption. The threat of far-right and anti-Muslim websites arguing that they constitute a news publisher is not only inevitable but very dangerous. As news publishers, they would have the freedom to propagate fake news, disinformation and conspiracy theories about Islam and Muslims.

The thought that UK-based racist outlets would be able to access this exception is horrific enough, but there is also a risk that extremist news websites currently based in the USA and elsewhere around the world will seek to relocate to Britain to benefit from the exemption in future. This is because while the exemption does not require publishers to abide by any specific set of standards, it does require publishers to have a UK office. Perversely, this creates an incentive for an extremist website based the US, for example, from where many of the internationally most popular racially hateful websites currently operate, to establish an office here in the UK. In doing so, it may then be able to post content under the terms of the exemption. Indeed, this exemption risks paving the way for a catastrophic scenario in which, on account of this exemption, the UK becomes less safe. It is critical that the Government listen and engage with these concerns.

Amendment 124 seeks to ensure that newspaper comment sections are properly regulated. Anyone can be a target of hatred in a newspaper comment section, but they are most likely to have Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, racist and misogynistic content. Without the amendment, the Bill’s provisions on the media will endanger those it is intended to protect. These amendments propose a compromise which is the right approach and will ensure that people are protected from abuse while also retaining the media exemption for responsible newspaper publishers. I hope the Government will engage more on these matters and work towards a solution.