The UK government is currently pushing a sweeping online censorship bill, the Online Safety Bill, which will force tech giants to censor content based on the vague, subjective term “harm.”
One of the government’s main arguments when attempting to defend these controversial censorship requirements has been that “news content will be completely exempt from any regulation under the Bill.” However, the rules that govern these exemptions are written in a way that favors large media outlets and makes it difficult for small, independent outlets to qualify.
For starters, the state-funded media outlets the BBC and Sianel Pedwar Cymru (S4C) automatically qualify as “recognised news publishers” – the standard that determines whether a publisher is exempt from the bill’s regulations.
Other outlets need to either hold a license under the Broadcasting Act 1990 or 1996 or meet numerous conditions which include “publishing news-related material that is created by different persons,” having a registered office or business address in the UK, making the name and address of the outlet’s owner public, being subject to a standards code and editorial control, and having a complaints procedure.
Obtaining a license under the Broadcasting Act 1990 or 1996 creates additional costs for small outlets, such as the £2,500 ($3,300) license application fee and the minimum annual license fee of £1,000, ($1,320). It also gives Ofcom the power to decide which outlets can get a license.
The provision for news-related materials from non-license holders to be created by “different persons” also prevents individual journalists from qualifying as recognized news publishers. Furthermore, the requirement for non-license holders to make their name and address public shuts out anonymous or pseudonymous publishers from these recognized news publisher exemptions.
Additionally, these non-license holder conditions create additional compliance burdens which disproportionately impact smaller news outlets with fewer staff and resources.
The disproportionate impact this censorship bill has on small, independent media outlets is just one of the many areas of concern. The bill also includes proposals that will jail people whose posts cause “psychological harm” with “no reasonable excuse,” tasks Big Tech with deciding when something is “illegal” or “fraudulent,” and more.
You can get a full overview of all the free speech and privacy threats posed by the Online Safety Bill here.
You can see a full copy of the full Online Safety Bill here.
The bill is currently making its way through Parliament and you can track its progress here.