Published on 13 February 2019
Dame Frances Cairncross was commissioned by the Government to carry out the review into the sustainability of high quality journalism.
As part of her inquiry, she spoke to journalists, academics and tech companies across the UK and overseas. One of those asked to take part was University of Sunderland Online Journalism Lecturer Neil Macfarlane.
“Government action on the likes of Facebook and Google is long overdue, and hopefully this review will lead to meaningful change that helps online journalism across the UK.
These are extremely difficult times for newspapers that are making the switch to online. The tech giants can hoover up 90% of advertising revenue from publishers across the country, while facilitating the spread of fake news that is having a destabilising effect on society and fundamentally undermining democracy.
Over the last decade they have grown to become the richest businesses in history – while apparently paying little in tax.
This matters because it is having a devastating effect on our understanding of the world around us. Local newspapers used to employ hundreds of council reporters, court reporters and investigative journalists who served the public interest with their reporting. That level of scrutiny is disappearing. Thousands of journalists have lost their jobs over the last 10 years and hundreds of newspapers have closed altogether.
Hopefully the Government will now take action to ensure that the tech giants are held to the same level of accountability for accuracy of content as news organisations are, and to address the funding gap by ensuring a fairer share of revenues that can be used to pay for the important work of journalists across the UK.
The role of the BBC has also been flagged up in the review. Paid subscription to online news providers is thriving in parts of Europe and the US, while it has been slow to take up in the UK. The difference is that we have a vastly funded public broadcaster, which aggressively fights against its commercial rivals for audience share. Why would people pay to read their local paper online, when they get news for free from the BBC?
The likes of Facebook, Google and the BBC have taken steps in the right direction recently.
Google does good work funding the likes of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Facebook recently agreed to pay for 80 local newspaper reporters across the country, and the BBC now funds 150 Local Democracy Reporters based at local papers.
“These are promising developments, but they do not restore news coverage to the levels of the past. The Cairncross Review calls for more to be done in this direction, and I hope the Government takes real action to ensure that happens.”