Index on Censorship has filed an official alert with the Council of Europe about risks to media freedom in proposals in the government’s recently released online harms white paper. The white paper has raised serious concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression, including press freedom.
In response to a letter from Ian Murray of the Society of Editors, which raised concerns about potential impacts on press freedom, secretary of state Jeremy Wright responded stating that journalistic or editorial content will not be affected by the proposed regulatory framework.
However, the far-reaching proposals that aim to address unclearly defined “harms” include a legal duty of care and the possibility of large fines and potentially even personal criminal liability for senior managers. These create a strong incentive to restrict and remove content, which could include “harmful” journalistic content where it appears online. The white paper includes disinformation in its list of harms.
Index on Censorship head of advocacy Joy Hyvarinen said: “The proposed regulation to tackle online harms has not been thought through properly. Based on the proposals in the online harms white paper, press freedom impacts would be very difficult to avoid. Index urges the government to reconsider these proposals.”