The Society of Editors has welcomed the central theme of the Cairncross Review into the future of the UK media industry, particularly its focus on the need to protect the reporting of local news.
The Review underscores the importance of high-quality journalism and the role it plays in ensuring a vibrant, working democracy and that such a service is expensive to maintain.
The Society applauds calls set out in the review for the digital giants – Google, Facebook and Apple – to work more constructively with the media industry and proposals to seek new, innovative ways of funding quality news production.
The Society notes recommendations in the review that call for the establishing of a new digital regulator and an Institute for Public Interest News and looks forward to working with the government to ensure that such initiatives do not damage the vibrant and independent media industry in the UK.
“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,” commented Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray.
“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 again there is no indication where such funding would come from and on what scale.
“Crucial to all of the recommendations for what is really state support for the local media industry in particular, are the report’s insistence that bodies such as the proposed Institution are free from political and other interference in deciding what constitutes public interest news worth supporting. The Press in the UK has not fought long and hard to maintain its independence and freedom to then find itself regulated by state-appointed bodies, no matter how well meaning was their original creation.”
The Society welcomes recommendations to extend the current VAT exemption for newspapers to on-line publishers as well as magazines and considering charitable status to assist the industry.
Dame Frances said she had not been asked to look at the effect of the BBC on the market, but still felt it necessary to call on the broadcaster to work more in partnership with local media to act as complimentary rather than as a competitor to commercial news bodies.
Another of the report’s recommendations called for a regulator to be able to enforce a requirement on digital giants such as Google and Facebook and perhaps Apple to ensure that it is made clearer the sources of news carried on their sites.
“While proposals to ensure genuine news from reliable sources is easier to identify are to be welcomed, this is again an area that if poorly executed could lead to a situation where the digital giants feel obliged to block whole topics of news simply to avoid falling foul of a regulator, “ added Murray.
“We must not see the public’s ability to access fact-based and checked news, whether of public interest or just of interest to the public, reduced through well-intentioned but poorly executed new regulations.”
Full details of the Cairncross Review can be found on the government website.