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Report calls for regulation of online news


Report calls for regulation of online news

A government-backed report has suggested that companies like Apple, Facebook and Google should have their news content overseen by a regulator.

The Cairncross Review suggests that the trustworthiness of online news should be monitored by an independent group to ensure that internet users are pushed towards high-quality journalism rather than fake news.

One of the key recommendations of the report is the establishment of an Institute for Public Interest News. Such a body could work with major online publishers and also groups like Ofcom and the BBC in a bid to provide public interest stories without any commercial or political obligations, in a similar way to how the Arts Council oversees and promotes art in the UK.

Dame Frances Cairncross, an ex-journalist who headed up the report, has stressed that it is important to find the balance between allowing news to be widely circulated online and ensuring that major digital companies are taking their responsibilities seriously.

The report rules out an idea proposed by some publishers to charge sites like Facebook and Google for providing news, citing problems with such initiatives in Germany and Spain. Cairncross explained that in Germany, Google simply stopped hosting news in the way it previously was, causing publishers to suffer. She also notes that as it would be a private commercial transaction, for the government to intervene in setting a fee could be problematic.

The report advocates a soft initial approach to monitor how well major sites are managing their duties to host news responsibly, but stresses that “stricter provisions” could be imposed if necessary.

Social media sites have made some effort to tackle the fake news issue over the last couple of years, although Facebook was recently dealt a blow when two fact-checking agencies severed ties with the social media site. One of them, Snopes, accused Facebook of not taking fact-checking seriously and using the partnership for “crisis PR”.

Another major focus of a report is the internet and social media’s role on the decline of local journalism. The report even cites an opinion from newsreader Jon Snow that the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 might have been averted if a strong local news source had reported on the building’s hazards sooner.

To help support this, the report proposes tax breaks for local journalism, and has suggested that the BBC should work more closely with local papers by extending its Local Democracy Reporting Service.

John Murray

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