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Facebook and Google need to work with publishers, says Cairncross Review into the future of the press

Facebook and Google should work with publishers to protect the future of independent journalism, a review into the future of the press has recommended.

The social media giants should address their 'unbalanced relationship' with the media, which has seen them swallow up huge chunks of the UK advertising market, the Cairncross Review states.

It says Facebook and Google - and possibly Apple - should be required to set out codes of conduct to govern their commercial arrangements with news publishers, overseen by a regulator.

Publishers have long argued that the social media companies should compensate the creators of news content that appears on their platforms.

Politician or business person having interview with politicians. Toned image. (7103752)
Politician or business person having interview with politicians. Toned image. (7103752)

The Cairncross Review was commissioned by the Government following growing concerns about the viability of independent journalism.

Many local newspapers across the country have closed while traditional revenue streams such as property advertising have largely gone online.

Led by economist Dame Frances Cairncross, the report makes further suggestions for securing the future of the press, including:

  • The creation of an Innovation Fund to support and improve the supply of public interest news
  • The formation of an Institute for Public Interest News, focused on local and regional media to enhance investigative journalism. This would be a dedicated organisation to "amplify existing and future efforts to ensure the sustainability of public-interest news, working in partnership with news publishers and the online platforms"
  • An expansion of the recently-established Local Democracy Reporting Service, which has seen reporters funded by the BBC working in the newsrooms of many local and regional papers to provide coverage of local authorities.
  • An extension ofthe current VAT-exemption for newspapers to online publishers and magazines.

The report recommends that Ofcom should assess whether BBC News Online is striking the right balance between aiming for the widest reach for its own content on the one hand and driving traffic from its online site to commercial publishers - particularly local ones - on the other.

The review was asked to consider the sustainability of the production and distribution of high-quality journalism, and especially the future of the press in dramatically changing market.

Dame Cairncross 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.”

It also concludes that 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.

A survey conducted as part of the investigationfound half of UK adults worry about "fake news” or disinformation while a quarter did not know how to verify sources of information they find online.

Responding to the review, Ian Murray executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “It is extremely gratifying that Dame Frances and her panel have underscored the need to protect and indeed reinvigorate the reporting of local democracy and open justice, areas which have suffered and continue to suffer as the industry contracts.”

“An enlarging of the present Local Democracy Supporting Service, which sees funds from the BBC supporting around 150 local journalists covering councils, also makes sense, although there is no indication where such funding would come from and on what scale.”

However, he warned that any measures should not lead to any form of state regulation of the press.

The News Media Association, which represents local and national publishers, said in a statement: “This is a thoughtful report which recognises the critical role of written journalism to democracy and sets out a series of detailed recommendations, many of which respond directly to the proposals put forward by the NMA and our members.

“We look forward to engaging with the government to discuss the Cairncross recommendations in more detail and how these should be taken forward as a matter of urgency to ensure they support independent journalism delivered by a strong and sustainable press.”

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