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Facebook and Google should be overseen new media watchdog to stop ‘fake news’ – report | Politics | News

Bosses at the tech firms need to accept their responsibility for promoting “news quality” rather than pushing “sensationalist headlines to generate a higher number of clicks” by computer users, according to the research. And ministers should consider direct grants of taxpayers cash or new tax reliefs to local newspapers to protect democratic scrutiny in communities across the country. The proposals were among a series of recommendations for tackling declining trust in the media put forward in a report into the long-term survival of high-quality journalism released on Monday night.

Overseen by former economic journalist and author Dame Frances Cairncross, the independent review commissioned by the Government follows concerns about the threat to democracy from the epidemic of misinformation presented as news on the internet.

Her report raised concerns that newspaper sales were plunging in the wake of the explosion in online news that many readers found far less trustworthy.

Dame Frances said: “The proposals I have put forward have the potential to improve the outlook for high quality journalism. 

“They are designed to encourage new models to emerge, with the help of innovation not just in technology but in business systems and journalistic techniques.”

Her report highlighted widespread concern about the amount of misinformation available on the internet and the challenge for the public in finding reliable web-based news sources.

It also highlighted an “uneven balance of power” between news publishers and the internet firms that distribute their content.

Government intervention may be needed “to improve people’s ability to assess the quality of online news and to measure their engagement with public interest news”, the report said.

Key recommendations in her report included:

  • New codes of conduct to re-balance the relationship between publishers and online platforms should be drawn up and overseen by a new internet regulator.

  • The Competitions and Markets Authority needed to investigate the online advertising market to ensure fair competition;

  • Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, should explore whether BBC News was inappropriately stepping into areas better served by commercial news providers. The corporations should do more to help local publishers and think further about how its news provision can complement to commercially-published news.

  • A new independent institute should be created to ensure the future provision of public interest news.

  • A new Innovation Fund should be launched to improve the supply of public interest news and new forms of tax reliefs provided to encourage payments for online news content and support local and investigative journalism.

The report said: “Half of UK adults worry about ‘fake news’ or disinformation.

“A quarter do not know how to verify sources of information they find online. 

“So users need to get the right skills to spot fake news, and platforms must identify and quickly remove the deliberate spread of misinformation on their services.”

The report added: “Although news can be found on television and radio, written journalism, whether in print or online, originates the largest quantity of original journalism and is most at risk – particularly investigative journalism and democracy reporting.” 

Highlighting the impact of the internet on newspaper sales, the report said: “Print circulation of national papers fell from 11.5 million daily copies in 2008 to 5.8 million in 2018 and for local papers from 63.4 million weekly in 2007 to 31.4 million weekly in 2017.

“Sales of both national and local printed papers fell by roughly half between 2007 and 2017, and are still declining.

“The number of full-time front line journalists in the UK has dropped from an estimated 23,000 in 2007, to just 17,000 today, and the numbers are still declining.”

Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “A healthy democracy needs high quality journalism to thrive and this report sets out the challenges to putting our news media on a stronger and more sustainable footing, in the face of changing technology and rising disinformation. 

“There are some things we can take action on immediately while others will need further careful consideration with stakeholders on the best way forward.” 

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