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Society of Editors welcomes Government’s support for Cairncross Review but warns of potential risks to free media online

Posted on: January 27, 2020 by Ellen Bramley

The Society of Editors (SoE) has broadly welcomed the Government’s response to the Cairncross Review into the future of UK journalism.

The SoE applauds the Government’s decision not to go ahead with a proposed Institute for Public Interest News and its support for a range of recommendations aimed at boosting the long-term future of the industry and in underscoring the important role of a free media in UK society.

However, the Society has urged caution in proposals to create a regulator to tackle the problems of disinformation and fake news on the web for fear it could dampen freedom of expression, have a chilling effect on media coverage, and possibly harm the UK’s vibrant press.

The Society of Editors was one of a number of organisations consulted by the government following the publication of the Cairncross Review last year.

The Society’s editorial director Ian Murray commented: “It is the correct step for the government to take to not follow through with the Cairncross Review’s recommendation to create an Institute for Public Interest News. The Society of Editors was consulted by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on this issue and felt there was a danger that the government would be seen to be deciding what constitutes worthwhile news coverage and what doesn’t. That should never be the role of government in a free, democratic society where many voices should be heard through a plurality of media outlets.

“The Government’s underpinning of its support for a free media, media literacy and improving diversity in journalism is also to be very much welcomed and are subjects close to the hearts of Society members.

“The proposed role of a regulator to create a code of conduct to hold the digital platforms to account, particularly in the areas of disinformation and unreliable news, will have to be approached with great care, however. It is a difficult road to travel and there are real dangers that such codes could impinge on media freedom on the web and freedom of expression. The digital platforms may resort to sweeping algorithms to enact any codes imposed which may not be subtle enough to understand what is genuine news and debate and what are unfounded, ill-researched or deliberately misleading articles,” added Murray.

The Cairncross Review into the future of UK journalism set out nine main recommendations for the government to consider, including introducing new tax reliefs aimed at encouraging payments for online news; the expansion of the Local Democracy Reporting Service; Ofcom to explore the market impact of BBC News; and the establishment of new codes of conduct to re-balance the relationship between platforms and publishers. The government has accepted all of the recommendations with the exception of the proposal for an Institute for Public Interest News.

The government also added further action points, including work to improve access for journalists covering courts to promote open justice, work to increase the efficiency of government advertising spending with the media, ensuring the Local Government Publicity Code is fully implemented by local authorities and to promote an ongoing dialogue with the media industry.

The Government’s response to the Cairncross Report can be read in full here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-cairncross-review-a-sustainable-future-for-journalism/government-response-to-the-cairncross-review-a-sustainable-future-for-journalism

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