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Report suggests UK should set up digital news regulator

A new report - dubbed The Cairncross Review - has been published in the UK today and has called for a new regulator that monitors digital news platforms such as Google News and Apple News. The body would be tasked with amplifying “existing and future efforts to ensure the sustainability for public-interest news” by working with news platforms, publishers, and other bodies, such as Ofcom (communications regulator) and the BBC.

The report says that the way people find their news has changed from print to digital media and that with that shift, we’ve seen the ad market transformed. It said that with ad revenue moving from publishers to online platforms, the finances of the publishers have been undermined and that this particularly hits smaller publishers. In response to a lack of financial resources, publishers end up cutting back their reporting, which this review believes is bad for the “effective working” of democracy.

Explaining how platforms such as social media have detrimentally impacted publisher revenues, the report says:

"Perhaps the most obvious reason for the dramatic fall in news publishers’ advertising revenues is that the supply of advertising “space” online is almost limitless. ... [S]ocial media platforms (such as Instagram) and streaming platforms (such as YouTube) allow advertisers a whole range of other options. ... And as with any market where competition and supply increases, prices per unit – in this case per advert – fall. Almost by default, the shift online has placed news publishers in a tougher position than they enjoyed in the past."

The large report comes to 157 pages in total but the author’s helpfully highlighted nine recommendations in the form of bullet points. Some suggestions include having an obligation to provide quality news, having the BBC help provide expertise to local publishers, having a fund to help improve the supply of public-interest news, and giving tax reliefs to improve how the online news market works and to ensure an adequate supply of public-interest journalism.

Another item discussed in the report is fake news, a topic that has cropped up a lot ever since it became a focal point in the 2016 U.S. elections. The authors of the report suggest more needs to be done to tackle the dissemination of fake news, with the report saying:

"It may eventually be necessary to find a way to impose news obligations on the platforms – to give more prominence to public-interest news, to make clearer what readers are seeing, and to avoid disseminating fake news. But in the short term, working collaboratively with the platforms to tackle these issues is likely to be a more fruitful approach."

It’ll be interesting to see what the government does with the feedback from the report. Prime Minister Theresa May ordered the review a little over a year ago so she will be likely to try and implement at least some of the measures outlined in the report. According to the conclusion of the report, it is not looking to preserve the status quo, or turn back the clocks on the media landscape so it’ll be interesting to see how existing organisations cope under the new suggestions from the report.

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