With the Online Safety Bill is back in parliament next week, Conservative rebels have picked an amendment to give Ofcom the powers prosecute social media executives – with jail time as a possible sentence – as their latest battle. When the amendment was put to Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan by the BBC’s Newscast, she said she was “not ruling out” any changes, adding she would take a “sensible approach”. Considering Labour and 36 Conservative MPs are backing the amendment, it’s not like she had much of a choice in the matter…
We then got a glimpse of what the bill might mean for debate on the internet. When asked whether Andrew Bridgen’s recent tweet – which Donelan implied was antisemitic – would be allowed, she responded:
“There is a triple shield of protection for adults under the bill now, so if it strays into illegal, which we know a lot of antisemitism can stray into, then it would go. If it is a breach of their terms and conditions, which all of the major platforms have antisemitism as a breach of terms and conditions, so it should have gone. The problem we’ve got at the moment is these platforms they play loose with their terms and conditions”
To paraphrase, the bill leaves it to Silicon Valley to decide which opinions are acceptable.
Tory MP Scott Benton made the Commons a bit rowdier this afternoon after launching a passionate tirade against Channel 4, in light of the government’s u-turn on selling it off. Rising to his feet the 2019 intake MP told Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan:
“Channel 4 has an unmistakeable liberal, left, metropolitan bias in its programming, and particularly in its news output. So much so it almost makes the BBC look impartial by comparison! How exactly is a few pages in its annual report going to change this engrained bias?”
His gag about the BBC got a hearty laugh from the Tory benches – and even a chuckle from the Secretary of State…
LBC‘s Lewis Goodall has got his hands on a letter from DCMS secretary Michelle Donelan to the PM confirming that her recommendation is against privatising Channel 4 – directly contravening the plan of Nadine Dorries and the previous government. The letter states that after reviewing the business case:
“I have concluded that pursuing a sale at this point is not the right decision and there are better ways to secure C4C’s sustainability and that of the UK independent production sector.”
Responding to the leaked letter, a DCMS spokesperson tells Guido “We do not comment on speculation. The DCMS Secretary of State has been clear that we are looking again at the business case for the sale of Channel Four. We will announce more on our plans in due course.” All eyes on Nadine’s Twitter account…
Read the leaked letter from Goodall in full here.
UPDATE: As expected, Nadine Dorries’ response pulls no punches:
A policy at some time in the future to teach maths for longer with teachers we don’t yet even have to do so.— Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) January 4, 2023
Where is the mandate- who voted for this?
Will now be almost impossible to face the electorate at a GE and expect voters to believe or trust our manifesto commitments.
Minister Michelle Donelan made her debut appearance in front of the DCMS select committee and received a warm welcome in the form of a pleased-to-meet-you battering from the chair, Julian Knight. Perhaps he was exasperated, perhaps he’s had enough of ministers, perhaps the Audit Office report on a DCMS fiasco was the last straw. He bunched his knuckles, put out a finger and piled in.
£120 million of public money had been spent on the inexplicable and unpardonable nonsense of Unboxed, the rebranded Festival of Brexit. People remember WW1 Remembrance, he said. They remember the 2010 Olympics. They remember the Queen’s Jubilee. But Unboxed? People had barely heard of it, and its “engagement” figures were lamentable.
He very nearly asked her to apologise for it. But he had much else with which to chastise her.
The minister had gone into hedgehog mode. She was defensive. She was covering for officials. She hadn’t learned any lessons. We couldn’t afford it then and certainly couldn’t now. She wouldn’t tell us who the officials were who designed the mess of it. She implied that her critics didn’t understand what they were talking about. She hadn’t listened to the Committee who’d said all along it was going to be a disaster because it had no idea behind it.
The Online Safety Bill is coming back for its Report stage on Monday. Secretary of State Michelle Donelan said again in DCMS questions this morning that she has removed the “legal but harmful” clause and protected free speech. Online-harm activists don’t like it one little bit, though free-speech enthusiasts should take no comfort from that. The Bill puts into legal jeopardy anything that creates “a material risk of significant harm to an appreciable number of adults in the United Kingdom”.
Significant harm? What constitutes “significant harm”? Precedent tells us “harm” is very much in the heart of the beholder.
Say that a private citizen posts:
Biological sex trumps gender ID. Transwomen are transwomen – not actual women.
And an activist reports the post to Ofcom – or to the publishing platform, or to the court, in a private prosecution – saying,
This hateful speech has damaged the core of my identity. It has attempted to erase my very being. I feel not just disparaged but annihilated. Half of all trans children who are denied will attempt suicide. I am now in danger of killing myself.
How can that not be interpreted as “significant harm”? The question is – under this Bill, will Kathleen Stock (the university lecturer hounded from her job by woke activists) be able to question gender ideology on social media?
Reading the Bill, Guido suggests she will not. Activists will claim harm. And even if Ofcom prevaricates, the owner of the platform will fear for being fined 10% of its worldwide income. It will censor the posts of private citizens and all posts like it “to prevent harm”. So – that’s the Stock question. It needs more than a stock answer.
UPDATE: The reservations expressed in Guido’s items on this subject were the result of reading the Bill as published on the internet. The Secretary of State’s version relies on consolidating her proposed Amendments with the text of the Bill – something that won’t happen until the relevant amendments have been passed, we all assume, on Monday.
Secretary of State Donelan has been in touch to say that her Amendment striking out Clause 151 removes the vestiges of “legal but harmful” from the Bill. The text of the Bill – still posted on the internet – says that an offence would be committed if anyone sent a message that risked causing “harm” to “a likely audience”. With Monday’s amendment, 151 is omitted and there will be no grounds in it for activists to pursue minority opinion-holders in the courts or through any administrative processes in Ofcom.
While Matt may not be King of the Jungle, at least he’s still got a friend in Desmond Swayne. Speaking this morning during DCMS questions, Swayne hailed Hancock’s tenure down-under as such a success that he deserves to have the whip restored on merit alone.
“[For the] sheer spunk of my right honourable friend the Member for West Suffolk’s contribution to television, it would be churlish not to restore the whip, wouldn’t it?”
Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan joined in commending Matt for swallowing bits of animals “with gusto”, though reminded the House she doesn’t have the power to restore the whip herself, no matter how many anuses Hancock chewed through:
“As my right honourable friend will know, that is not a decision for me. But we can always depend on the Member for West Suffolk to attack every challenge with gusto. And I wasn’t surprised at all to see him taking on all sorts of parts of animals during the show…
Donelan then went on to insist that, unlike two of her predecessors at DCMS, she has no plans to head to the jungle herself any time soon:
“…it has become a little bit of a thing for my predecessors to join that show, but I hope that I can provide reassurance that I have no intentions of ever doing so.”
Guido can’t imagine why…