HomeInsightsGovernment publishes response to House of Lords Communications and Digital Select Committee report “Breaking news? The Future of UK Journalism”

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The Committee’s report was published in November 2020. The key points from the Government’s response are set out below.

The Committee recommended that the Government empowers Ofcom to regulate online news content produced by UK public service broadcasters (PSBs) in the same way it regulates broadcast content.

In response, the Government notes that the Broadcasting Code, which is drawn up by Ofcom, contains clear rules to ensure that broadcast news is reported with due accuracy and impartiality. It notes also that it is currently undertaking a review of public service broadcasting and says that it will be looking at all issues relevant to ensuring “a modern, sustainable and successful public service broadcasting system”. As part of this review, the Government will consider “how regulation may need to adapt to take into account changing technology and audience habits and expectations”. The Government will set out its detailed plans in due course.

The Committee also recommended that the Government reviews legislation banning the use of recording devices in court and considers permanently implementing the relaxation of live streaming of certain court hearings.

In response, the Government says that although public confidence in the justice system relies on transparency, “these principles must be carefully balanced against other considerations, such as the welfare of those involved in proceedings, and what is in the best interests of justice more broadly”. Consequently, the unauthorised tape recording of proceedings is a contempt of court. It is also not permitted to photograph, film or sketch people in court. However, the Government recognises the importance of court reporting and has taken steps to ensure it can continue to take place as technology and the media change and modernise. For example, the media, at the court’s discretion, may be permitted to record proceedings in court as an aide memoire, and the Supreme Court has filmed its proceedings since 2009 and the Court of Appeal first allowed recording in 2013.

The Committee also recommended that the Government should set up the proposed Digital Markets Unit (DMU) “as a matter of urgency”.

In response, the Government noted that in November 2020 it set out its proposals for a new pro-competition regime for digital markets, including the establishment of a DMU from April 2021. The Government says that at the heart of the regime will be a mandatory code of conduct to “govern the relationships between dominant firms and different groups of users which rely on their services”. The Government says that it understands “the need to make quick and tangible progress on this given local publishers are under increasing financial pressure”. This work will “contribute to the long-term sustainability of the press sector as it transitions to digital media and seeks to effectively monetise its online content”. The Government will hold a public consultation in 2021 and legislate to put the DMU on a statutory footing as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The Government also recommended that the Online Harms Bill should be used to legislate for a mandatory news bargaining code modelled on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s proposal. The DMU should take on responsibility for this and keep under review publishers’ concerns about the ways in which platforms use their content. The Government and regulators should work closely with international partners on this issue.

The Government said that the new code of conduct that it plans to introduce will cover the relationships between publishers and platforms to “ensure they are fair”, and “help support the sustainability of the press”. The code will be overseen by the DMU. The Government says that it is engaging with other jurisdictions on publishers’ concerns as it is a global issue. To access the response in full, click here.

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