Parliament should impose a duty on platforms not to interfere with the commercial interests of online publishers

The Online Safety Bill demonstrates Parliament’s recognition that platform services have an obligation to moderate harmful online content. Equally, there is general agreement that the Bill should not undermine freedom of expression, particularly that of the press. 

Clauses 14 and 15 of the Online Safety Bill, thus provide exemptions regulating the platform’s authority to moderate news content. Unless the platform as service provider reasonably considers that they themselves would incur criminal or civil liability if the content were not removed swiftly, the bill provides that the content publisher is responsible for its content. If the platform considers it risks incurring liability it must justify its position to the content publisher and allow for appeal.  

These provisions are borne out of the instinctive principle that a free press is essential to the workings of democracy, and that our lawmakers should not in any way jeopardise this by making platforms the arbiters or editors of the news or by engendering harmful dependence. 

In order to take a consistent approach and reflect the same principle, we suggest an additional provision mandating that platforms do not interfere with the commercial interests of news and other publishers.  

Indeed, by systematically blocking data sources, like cookies, which facilitate competition in digital advertising, the platforms are, step by step, removing the ability of publishers to run independent businesses, and threatening the money available for journalism. On a system wide basis this threatens the visibility of such outlets, and, ultimately, freedom of expression.  

The impact of this commercial strain is already apparent (see Breaking News? The Future of UK Journalism (parliament.uk)) but will nevertheless worsen. 

Parliament should step in, making the necessary amendments to draft legislation in order to protect the sustainability and plurality of the traditional press.