“Tougher internet regulations” says Cairncross Review

by Hannah Martin,

Government report calls for platforms such as Google and Facebook to do more to identify fake news and focuses heavily on “protecting local-democracy.”

The audit into the sustainability of quality reporting led by Dame Frances Cairncross, a former economic journalist, says that websites collating and promoting news have a responsibility to assess the authenticity of sources and “nudge people towards reading news of high quality.” BBC director-general Lord Hall of Birkenhead has argued that there is an urgent need for independent scrutiny of the decisions taken by the tech giant platforms.

The report includes nine recommendations for the news industry and they come at a time when press are facing declining print sales, fake news and disinformation campaigns have become commonplace and the majority of advertising revenue now sits with news platforms not publishers.

The Cairncross Review examined the consumption of online news, and has called for greater regulation of tech giants, and more public support for local news publishers to tackle the “uneven balance of power.” It argues that high quality journalism plays a critical role in our democratic system, in particular through holding power to account, and its independence must be safeguarded.

Over the past decade more than 300 local newspapers have been closed and more than half of all parliamentary constituencies do not have a dedicated daily local newspaper – Cairncross has advised that using public money to fund local and investigative journalism may be a solution.

Mandy Vere has worked in the publishing industry at Liverpool’s News From Nowhere since 1975 and commented on the implementable regulations and what the industry is currently facing.

 

The National Union of Journalists’ (NUJ) said: “Four companies – Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press, Newsquest and Tindle Newspapers – own nearly 75% of all local newspapers. This market domination has allowed these companies to generate profits and offer executives bumper pay packets while cutting journalists’ jobs and freezing wages. The BBC has also been slashing budgets, axing jobs and drawing up plans to shut local BBC offices while at the same time using £8million per year of licence-fee payers’ money to prop up private media companies. This situation can’t carry on. Local communities deserve better.”

One Cairncross proposal that has been heavily focussed on is “new codes of conduct to rebalance the relationship between publishers and online platforms.” This marks an important step in building trust between legacy news organisations and digital companies – according to the review, an independent institute “focussing on public interest, determining what’s good and bad news” would administer the bridge.

Regardless of initial intentions, the review has been criticised as an attack on freedom of information.

The Society of Editors, a group of journalists campaigning for media freedom, have welcomed the central theme of the review – though it warns that “government-imposed regulation” could do more harm than good, The Sun reports.

Ian Murray, the society’s executive director, said the UK press had not fought “long and hard to maintain its independence and freedom to then find itself regulated by state-appointed bodies, no matter how well meaning was their original creation.”

 

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