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News In Focus

Public interest and local journalism needs special support, review reports

12 February 2019

Government should explore direct funding for local news and new tax reliefs to support public interest journalism, according to the final report of the Cairncross review into the future of the UK news industry, published today.

The independent review, under Dame Frances Cairncross, a former economic journalist, author and academic administrator, was tasked by the Prime Minister in 2018 with investigating the sustainability of the production and distribution of high-quality journalism.

After studying the overall state of the news media market, the threats to the financial sustainability of publishers, the impact of search engines and social media platforms, and the role of digital advertising,  Some of the report’s key findings include:

Half of UK adults worry about "fake news" or disinformation, the review finds, while a quarter do not know how to verify sources of information they find online. But 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.

At the same time, research commissioned for the review found that print circulation of national papers fell from 11.5m daily copies in 2008 to 5.8m in 2018, and for local papers from 63.4m weekly in 2007 to 31.4m weekly in 2017; print advertising revenues dropped by more than two thirds in the 10 years to 2017; and the number of full time frontline journalists in the UK has dropped from an estimated 23,000 in 2007, to just 17,000 today, and the numbers are still declining.

Dame Frances concludes that measures are needed to tackle the uneven balance of power between news publishers and the online platforms that distribute their content, and to address the growing risks to the future provision of public interest news – and 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.

Her key recommendations are:

  • A new Institute for Public Interest News should focus on the future of local and regional press, free from political or commercial obligations, and oversee a new innovation fund to improve the supply of public interest news.
  • Online platforms should have a "news quality obligation" to improve trust in news they host, overseen by a regulator, initially simply an obligation to allow a regulator to gather information on the steps online platforms are taking to improve people’s awareness of the origins and quality of the news they read.
  • New codes of conduct should be introduced to govern commercial arrangements and rebalance the relationship between publishers and online platforms.
  • The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) should investigate the online advertising market to ensure fair competition.
  • Ofcom should explore the market impact of BBC News, and whether it inappropriately steps into areas better served by commercial news providers.
  • The BBC, whose free online news service is seen as an obstacle to selling online news subscriptions, should do more to help local publishers, and think further about how its news provision can act as a complement to commercial news.
  • New forms of tax reliefs should be brought in, to encourage payments for online news content and support local and investigative journalism.
  • The BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service should be extended to expand financial support for local news.
  • A media literacy strategy should be developed with Ofcom, industry and stakeholders.

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."

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright is to write immediately to the CMA, Ofcom and the chair of the Charity Commission to open discussions about how best to take forward the recommendations which fall within their remits. The Government will respond fully to the report later this year.

Click here to access the report. 

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