Digital Economy Bill

Written evidence submitted by News Media Association (DEB 22)

1. The News Media Association (NMA) is the voice of national, regional and local news media organisations in the UK – a £5 billion sector read by 48 million adults every month in print and online.  Newsbrands - national, regional and local newspapers in print and digital - are by far the biggest investors in news, accounting for more than two-thirds (69 per cent) of the total spend on news provision in the UK.

2. This submission is in response to the Digital Economy Bill 2016 and highlights concerns that the NMA has on how its provisions will impact upon journalism and the freedom of expression.

3. Part 5 Chapter 1 of the Bill, "Digital Government – Public Service Delivery", creates provisions for the exchange of information between various public and government bodies. The explanatory notes at paragraph 29 state:

"The Bill provides the necessary legal framework to enable data sharing for a public benefit and will be a key enabler for the government transformation plan …"

4. It is unclear that such a liberalisation of the flow of information between public bodies is actually necessary. There is no general prohibition on the disclosure of such information (although there are some highly targeted provisions elsewhere in legislation [1] ), and so it is arguable that the "liberalising" provisions simply codify the status quo.

5. However, much more significant are the criminal sanctions it creates for the unauthorised disclosure of personal information which, bizarrely, can be information about a corporate body exchanged under the Bill. These provisions could therefore criminalise disclosures revealing matters of legitimate public interest by whistle-blowers and investigative journalism. They would criminalise journalists and media organisations indiscriminately that publish such information, as there are no exemptions or defences for journalists, even if they are plainly acting in the public interest or reasonably believe that they are doing so.

6. Not only are these offences too broad, they are also unnecessary. For the most serious disclosures there are criminal sanctions in the Official Secrets Act, the Data Protection Act, and the offence of Misconduct in Public Office. That these are reserved for the gravest disclosures reflects the importance of freedom of expression and the weight that must be given to its protection under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Such sweeping criminalisation falls far short of the requirements of Article 10 and would greatly impair the freedom of the press.

October 2016

[1] For example: section 19 of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005; section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992; section 50 of the Child Support Act 1991; section 39 of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007


Prepared 13th October 2016