Oxford Media Convention 2019: Remaking the UK Media System

The Oxford Media Convention was organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research and took place on Monday 18th March. The focus of the day was on “Remaking the UK Media System” and comprised a number of high-profile speakers as well as varied panel discussions, writes Charlie Bowden.

The day started with Mark Thompson, President and Chief Executive of The New York Times Company discussing press sustainability, the structural changes occurring within the industry and more broadly his vision for the NYT. He discussed the future of regulation and confessed interest at what Mark Zuckerberg was planning for Facebook in light of the associated challenges on the horizon for big tech companies. He emphasised the importance of fighting for new audiences and spoke positively of the NYT’s “The Daily” podcast to activate a younger audience to the brand. The rise of podcast in engaging younger audiences is an interesting development for the industry with the BBC also launching “Beyond Today”, a podcast aimed at younger audiences.

The day stressed the importance of regional and local journalism to democracy with speakers including Digital Minister Margot James MP and Sir David Clementi, Chairmen at the BBC, testifying to its vital importance.

Digital Minister Margot James in her keynote speech called into question live-streaming amid the New Zealand terror attack video. She explained, referring to the uploads, that “1.2m were blocked at the point of upload – that’s good. That still left 300,000 shares unchecked for too long. The impact that has really does call into question the future of live streaming.” On this theme she said that high journalistic standards, currently seen in print media, are entirely absent from online platforms with regulation needed to correct this. She also confirmed that the Online Harms White Paper would be published imminently. On a positive note for the industry, James highlighted the immense effort of the media, particularly local, in holding politicians to account, often she claimed, better than the registered opposition.

MP and Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Damian Collins was guest on a panel discussing misinformation and its effect on national security. Collins admitted that if an election were to take place imminently the process would be no safer than it had been during the 2016 referendum. Will Moy, director at Full Fact, agreed with Collins that we need new emergency legislation to prevent Facebook and Google from deciding the terms of our elections. Louise Edwards, Director of legislation at the Electoral Commission, spoke of the need to speed up the process to check campaign funding and for greater clarity in the categories of identification in spending. “Digital” for example, as a category, is too vast in this day and age to give voters a credible understanding of where money is being spent. Collins agreed with the Digital Minister’s speech that greater regulation is needed from big tech companies, noting that we can no longer simply rely on goodwill instead high editorial standards as currently seen in the press need to be mirrored onto digital platforms.

David Clementi, BBC Chairmen, also gave a keynote speech during the day. He discussed the need for effective regulation for the broadcast and social media sector as well as the BBC’s role in fulfilling its obligation to the license fee payer, again agreeing with those previously, in the importance of engaging younger audiences as well as the more traditional ones.

Later in the day discussions on new models of media ownership and finance were held, ideas including public service search engines, not for profit models of journalism as well as support and caution over funding for public interest news were all included in debate. The day was also interspersed with questions related to diversity within the media industry and how more could be done to get a greater diversity of talent to enter and thrive within the industry.