Debates between Lord McNally and Lord Clement-Jones during the 2019-2024 Parliament

Mon 17th Jul 2023

Online Safety Bill

Debate between Lord McNally and Lord Clement-Jones
Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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My Lords, this has been a very interesting short debate. Like other noble Lords, I am very pleased that the Government have proposed the new clauses in Amendments 274B and 274C. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, described absolutely the importance of media literacy, particularly for disabled people and for the vulnerable. This is really important for them. It is important also not to fall into the trap described by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, of saying, “You are a child or a vulnerable person. You must acquire media literacy—it’s your obligation; it’s not the obligation of the platforms to design their services appropriately”. I take that point, but it does not mean that media literacy is not extraordinarily important.

However, sadly, I do not believe that the breadth of the Government’s new media literacy amendments is as wide as the original draft Bill. If you look back at the draft Bill, that was a completely new and upgraded set of duties right across the board, replacing Section 11 of the Communications Act and, in a sense, fit for the modern age. The Government have made a media literacy duty which is much narrower. It relates only to regulated services. This is not optimum. We need something broader which puts a bigger and broader duty for the future on to Ofcom.

It is also deficient in two respects. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, will speak to his amendments, but it struck me immediately when looking at that proposed new clause that we were missing all the debate about functionalities and so on that the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, debated the other day, regarding design, and that we must ensure that media literacy encompasses understanding the underlying functionalities and systems of the platforms that we are talking about.

I know that your Lordships will be very excited to hear that I am going to refer again to the Joint Committee. I know that the Minister has read us from cover to cover, but at paragraph 381 on the draft Bill we said, and it is still evergreen:

“If the Government wishes to improve the UK’s media literacy to reduce online harms, there must be provisions in the Bill to ensure media literacy initiatives are of a high standard. The Bill should empower Ofcom to set minimum standards for media literacy initiatives that both guide providers and ensure the information they are disseminating aligns with the goal of reducing online harm”.

I had a very close look at the clause. I could not see that Ofcom is entitled to set minimum standards. The media literacy provisions sadly are deficient in that respect.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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I am not surprised that my noble friend refers to his experience on the Joint Committee. He will not be surprised that I am about to refer to my experience on the Puttnam committee in 2003, which recommended media literacy as a priority for Ofcom. The sad fact is that media literacy was put on the back burner by Ofcom for almost 20 years. While I listen to this House, I think that my noble friend is quite right to accuse the Government, hard as the Minister has tried, of a paucity of ambition and—more than that—of letting us slip into the same mistake made by Ofcom after 2003 and allowing this to be a narrow, marginal issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, has reminded us time and again that unless we educate those who are using these technologies, these abuses will proliferate.

Therefore, with what my noble friend is advocating and what we will keep an eye on as the Bill is implemented—and I now literally speak over the Minister’s head, to the Member behind—Ofcom must take media literacy seriously and be a driving force in its implementation, for the very reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, referred to. We do not want everybody protected by regulations and powers—we want people protected by their own knowledge of what they are dealing with. This is where there is a gap between what has been pressed on the Government and what they are offering.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend very much for that intervention.