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Facebook and Google news should be regulated, Cairncross Review says

BBC Technology 12 Feb 2019 11:36
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A regulator should oversee tech giants like Google and Facebook to ensure their news content is trustworthy, a government-backed report has suggested.

The Cairncross Review into the future of UK news said such sites should help users identify fake news and "nudge people towards news of high quality".

The review also said Ofcom should assess the BBC's impact on online news on other providers.

In addition, the report called for a new Institute for Public Interest News.

Such a body, it said, could work in a similar way to the Arts Council, channelling public and private funding to "those parts of the industry it deemed most worthy of support".

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Its recommendations include measures to tackle "the uneven balance of power" between news publishers and online platforms that distribute their content.

"Their efforts should be placed under regulatory scrutiny - this task is too important to leave entirely to the judgment of commercial entities," according to the report.

A regulator would initially only assess how well these sites are performing - but if this doesn't work, the report warns "it may be necessary to impose stricter provisions".

Dame Frances told the BBC's media editor Amol Rajan that "draconian and risky" measures could result in firms such as Google withdrawing their news services altogether.

"But they are mostly ways that don't immediately involve legislation."

The review was not asked to comment specifically on the BBC but concluded that curtailing the corporation's news offering would be counter-productive after hearing arguments from other publishers that the BBC reporting on so-called "soft content" online was crowding out other news providers.

The BBC also argues that "soft content" stories may attract users who might then click onwards to a public-interest news story.

Dame Frances also recommended an exploration of the market impact of BBC News, conducted by broadcasting regulator Ofcom, to find whether it is 'striking the right balance' and driving traffic to other, commercial providers.

Meanwhile, former director general of the BBC Greg Dyke defended the role of the corporation.

"The importance of the BBC is going to grow in the next 10 years, not decline."

That pragmatism is the very reason the government commissioned her to look at the future of high-quality news - and also the reason many in local and regional media will be disappointed by her recommendations.

  • It doesn't suggest all social media should be regulated in the UK
  • It doesn't suggest social media companies pay for the privilege of using news content
  • It doesn't suggest social media companies be treated as publishers, with legal liability for all that appears on their platform

There are concrete measures that could boost local news, from tax relief to an extension of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Ultimately, as this report acknowledges, when it comes to news, convenience is king. The speed, versatility and zero cost of so much news now means that, even if it is of poor quality, a generation of consumers has fallen out of the habit of paying for news.

Other recommendations included:

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The Yorkshire Post's James Mitchinson said: "The various fiscal reviews and recommendations... must come quickly... if we are to turn the Cairncross Review into something which we look back upon as being instrumental in preserving what we do for generations to come."

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