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NMA echoes editors’ fears over ‘age appropriate’ news websites plan

NMALogonewThe News Media Association has echoed fears over plans to ensure news websites are “age appropriate” – warning it would “devastate advertising” revenues.

The trade body for the regional and national press has joined the Society of Editors in speaking out against proposals by the Information Commissioner’s Office which, if enacted, would require news sites to either ensure their content is suitable to be read by children or require users to prove they are adults.

HTFP reported last week how the SoE had criticised the plan, claiming it could end up “forcing some regional titles to fold” due to the potential of publishers facing huge fines if the criteria were not met.

SoE executive director Ian Murray added the proposal would also mean a “watering down of editorial content which it has always been accepted is targeted towards an adult readership”.

The ICO is currently running a consultation into the planned age appropriate code, which seeks to protect young people and children under the age of 18 from having their data details exploited on the web.

In its response to the consultation, the NMA said: “There is surely no justification for the ICO to attempt by way of a statutory age appropriate design code, to impose access restrictions fettering adults (and children’s) ability to receive and impart information, or in effect impose ‘pre watershed’ broadcast controls upon the content of all currently publicly available, free to use, national, regional and local news websites, already compliant with the general law and editorial and advertising codes of practice upheld by IPSO and the ASA.

“In practice, the draft Code would undermine commercial news media publishers’ business models, as audience and advertising would disappear. Adults will be deterred from visiting newspaper websites if they first have to provide age verification details. Traffic and audience will also be reduced if social media and other third parties were deterred from distributing or promoting or linking titles’ lawful, code compliant, content for fear of being accused of promoting content detrimental to some age group in contravention of the Code.

“Audience measurement would be difficult. It would devastate advertising, since effective relevant personalised advertising will be rendered impossible, and so destroy the vital commercial revenues which actually fund the independent media, its trusted journalism and enable it to innovate and evolve to serve the ever-changing needs of its audience.

“Newspapers’ online content, editorial and advertising practices do not present any danger to children. The ICO has not raised with the industry any evidence of harm, necessitating such drastic restrictions, caused by reading news or service of advertisements where these are compliant with the law and the standards set by specialist media regulators.”

An ICO spokeswoman said: “The ICO’s consultation on its draft age appropriate design code is ongoing. We will consider responses before drafting a final version to be laid before parliament.”