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Society of Editors Responds to Online Harms White Paper

The Society of Editors has welcomed measures announced by the government to crack down on internet harms, but warned of the need to be vigilant over press freedom.

Society of Editors Responds to Online Harms White Paper
Ian Murray: “The devil is always in the detail.”

The Society says the proposals in the On-Line Harms Bill published by Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Secretary of State Jeremy Wright today (Monday) may also threaten basic rights to freedom of expression if not introduced with great emphasis on avoiding too draconian regulations.

“Few can deny the need for measures to prevent child abuse, the promotion of terrorism, encouragement to self harm and other serious online harms”, said the Society’s executive director Ian Murray.

“The creation of new regulations to protect the vulnerable in society as outlined by the Secretary of State should be and will be broadly welcomed by anyone who feels the digital sphere has become too lawless.

“But the devil is always in the detail and where the white paper moves into areas concerning the spread of misinformation - so called fake news - we should all be concerned.

“Who will decide what is fake news? This form of censorship in the hands of those who would shackle the press and curtail freedom of expression would be disastrous for our free society. There is no use pretending there are not politicians who wish to silence some debates who would use this as a weapon if permitted."

Murray added that the public would certainly welcome tough measures to clamp down on genuine harms, but cautioned against those issues being used as a Trojan horse to introduce state regulation of the press by the back door.

“Free societies do not give up their liberties by choice unless they believe it is in the common good. The priority for politicians should always be to ensure credible reasons for change are not used as smoke screens to usher in sweeping restraints where the consequences are far wider than the public believed.

“The Society will be lobbying to ensure the case for freedom of expression and a free press remain paramount.”