The death of teenage Molly Russell is an urgent reminder that Big Tech must be forced into a new era of accountability, prioritizing trust and safety alongside “clicks and profits.”
Michael Grade said Ofcom will be given new powers under the government’s online safety bill, which he plans to use to hold the biggest and most powerful technology companies accountable.
“There is an urgent need for sensible and balanced rules that protect users from serious harm,” said Grade at the Royal Television Society’s London conference on Tuesday. “This is an urgent task, as the current inquest into the tragic death of Molly Russell reminds us.”
On Monday, a senior executive at Instagram owner Meta apologized at Molly’s inquest after confirming the platform displayed policy-violating content before Molly’s death.
Molly, 14, from Harrow, north west London, committed suicide in November 2017 after viewing a large amount of content related to suicide, self-harm, depression and anxiety.
“We need a new era of accountability, where businesses must prioritize trust and safety alongside clicks and profits,” said Grade, in his first speech since becoming Ofcom’s chairman this year.
“Big tech companies must shift regulatory responsibilities from their current public policy departments to the frontline staff responsible for designing and operating their products.”
Grade compared Big Tech’s attitude to that of bankers who believe their compliance departments “belong in a galaxy far, far away.”
“Under the planned legislation, Ofcom will have the power to subpoena those who have day-to-day responsibility for the safety of users on the sites and apps themselves,” he said. “This represents a very meaningful, too late change in Big Tech regulatory culture.”
Grade, who has played an important role on ITV, BBC and Channel 4, and has once called YouTube a “parasite,” said civilized debates about politics, society and culture had negatively escalated into a so-called culture war. said.
“Ofcom does not and should not regulate culture wars,” he said. “Some are trying to recruit us for their cause. But we are not interested. It’s not our business. Piers Morgan’s comments about the Duchess of Sussex are justified by freedom of expression.” Whether we judge it to have been incarnated, or the Diversity’s tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement as well, we make decisions based on personal preferences, political pressures, fears and favors. I will never let you down.”
He said Ofcom aims to make “evidence-based, prudent and balanced decisions,” rather than trying to regulate the tone of discussion on social media when social media is given new powers. said it wouldn’t.
But he said traditional media would never imitate the “shrill and shocking” content and views found on social media.
“We all want television and radio journalists to do what they do best: hold people accountable, validate their motives, test their views,” he said. Told. “I believe they can do all of this with caution. They can’t, and they shouldn’t be trying to, instead we expect cold, forensic analysis and interrogation from them.”
Grade, who has said in the past that Channel 4 should be privatized and that the BBC’s subscription fees are “excessive” and “regressive”, said the debate over the future of Britain’s public service broadcasters (PSBs) Said it was a government issue.
“Personal opinions, especially mine, are not the currency of Ofcom’s work,” he said. “There is a long-term question that must be answered: BBC funding, Channel 4 ownership and he law where and how PSB will level the playing field. [pubic service broadcasters] Compete with US streamers. These are government and parliamentary issues, not Ofcom. ”