Clause 15 - Duties to protect content of democratic importance

Part of Online Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 7th June 2022.

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Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 4:45 pm, 7th June 2022

No, I don’t. First of all, as I say, it is taken into account; it is not determinative. Secondly, on the point about state-sponsored disinformation, as I think I mentioned yesterday in response to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton, there is, as we speak, a new criminal offence of foreign interference being created in the National Security Bill. That will criminalise the kind of foreign interference in elections that she referred to. Because that would then create a new category of illegal content, that would flow through into this Bill. That would not be overridden by the duty to protect content of democratic importance set out here. I think that the combination of the fact that this is a balancing exercise, and not determinative, and the new foreign interference offence being created in the National Security Bill, will address the issue that the hon. Lady is raising—reasonably, because it has happened in this country, as she has said.

I will briefly turn to new clause 7, which calls for a review. I understand why the shadow Minister is proposing a review, but there is already a review mechanism in the Bill; it is to be found in clause 149, and will, of course, include a review of the way that clauses 15 and 16 operate. They are important clauses; we all accept that journalistic content and content of democratic importance is critical to the functioning of our society. Case law relating to article 10 of the European convention on human rights, for example, recognises content of journalistic importance as being especially critical. These two clauses seek to ensure that social media firms, in making their decisions, and Ofcom, in enforcing the firms, take account of that. However, it is no more than that: it is “take account”, it is not determinative.