Ofcom chair says tech firms must prioritise safety alongside clicks


The death of the teenager Molly Russell is an urgent reminder that big tech needs to be forced into a new era of accountability and to prioritise trust and safety alongside “clicks and profit,” says the new chair of the UK media regulator Ofcom.

Michael Grade said Ofcom was set to be given new powers under the government’s online safety bill that he would use to hold the biggest and most powerful tech companies to account.

“There is an urgent need for sensible, balanced rules that protect users from serious harm,” said Grade, speaking at the Royal Television Society’s London convention on Tuesday. “As the current inquest into Molly Russell’s tragic death reminds us, this is an urgent task.”

On Monday, a senior executive at Instagram’s owner, Meta, apologised at Molly’s inquest after confirming that the platform had shown her content that violated its policies before she died.

Molly, 14, from Harrow, north-west London, killed herself in November 2017 after viewing extensive amounts of content related to suicide, self-harm, depression and anxiety.

“We need a new era of accountability where companies have to prioritise trust and safety alongside clicks and profit,” Grade said, in his first speech since taking up the role of Ofcom chair this year.

“Big tech firms must shift their regulatory responsibilities from the public policy departments, where they sit today, to the frontline staff responsible for designing and operating their products.”

Grade compared the attitudes of big tech to those of bankers who believe their compliance departments “belong in a galaxy far, far away”, with the people who design and operate the tech platforms not touched by safety concerns.

“Under the planned laws, Ofcom will have powers to summon people with day-to-day responsibility for users’ safety on the sites and apps themselves,” he said. “This represents a very meaningful, overdue shift in the regulatory culture of big tech.”

Grade, who has held top roles at ITV, the BBC and Channel 4 and once called YouTube a “parasite”, also said civilised debate about politics, society and culture had negatively escalated into the so-called culture wars.

“Ofcom does not, and should not, regulate the culture wars,” he said. “Some try to conscript us to their cause. But we’re not interested. That is not our job. Whether we are judging that Piers Morgan’s comments about the Duchess of Sussex were justified by freedom of expression, or that Diversity’s tribute to the Black Lives Matter Movement was, too, we never make decisions based on personal preference, political pressure, fear or favour.”

He said Ofcom would aim to make “careful, balanced decisions based on the evidence” and would not seek to regulate the tone of debate on social media when it was given new powers.

However, he said traditional media outlets would never emulate the “shrill and the shocking” content and views seen on social media.

“We all want television and radio journalists to do what they do best: hold people to account, cross-examine their motives and test their views,” he said. “I believe they can do all of this in a measured manner. But in the fight for attention, traditional broadcasters will never match social media’s capacity for the shrill and the shocking. Nor should they be trying to. Instead, we look to them for calm, forensic analysis and interrogation.”

Grade, who in the past has said Channel 4 should be privatised and has called the BBC licence fee “excessive” and “regressive”, said the debate about the future of the UK’s public service broadcasters (PSBs) was a matter for government.

“Personal opinions, especially mine, are not the currency of Ofcom’s work,” he said. “There are long-term questions to answer: BBC funding, Channel 4 ownership, and how legislation might level the playing field where PSBs [pubic service broadcasters] compete with US streamers. These are matters for government and parliament, not Ofcom.”

About the author

Marta Lopez

I am a content writer and I write articles on sports, news, business etc.

By Marta Lopez


Get in touch

Content and images available on this website is supplied by contributors. As such we do not hold or accept liability for the content, views or references used. For any complaints please contact adelinedarrow@gmail.com. Use of this website signifies your agreement to our terms of use. We do our best to ensure that all information on the Website is accurate. If you find any inaccurate information on the Website please us know by sending an email to adelinedarrow@gmail.com and we will correct it, where we agree, as soon as practicable. We do not accept liability for any user-generated or user submitted content – if there are any copyright violations please notify us at adelinedarrow@gmail.com – any media used will be removed providing proof of content ownership can be provided. For any DMCA requests under the digital millennium copyright act
Please contact: adelinedarrow@gmail.com with the subject DMCA Request.