The Society of Editors has welcomed a warning from MPs that Fake News is undermining democracy, and says it strengthens the case for support for the mainstream media.
MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee have concluded the UK faces a democratic crisis due to the influence of social media following an investigation into the effects of fake news. Now the Society is calling on those in Parliament and elsewhere to recognise the true value of serious news providers.
“The best way to counter fake news and what MPs on the committee have called ‘pernicious views’ being pedalled as fact, is surely to ensure that those organisations that are dedicated to providing balanced and well researched news and information through the use of trained journalists survive and thrive,” commented Society of Editors Executive Director Ian Murray.
“It is somewhat ironic, however, if not galling, that there are some who inhabit Parliament who seem be ever-active in trying to undermine the mainstream media and remove many of the very liberties and freedoms that are vital to its ability to flourish.
“Over the last few years we have witnessed repeated attempts by those in the House of Commons and the House of Lords to undermine the freedoms of the media, especially the printed press, with vocal attacks against journalists. It is not surprising then that when faced with alternative facts and down-right lies on social media the public will be swayed in their opinion.
“While the media should certainly not be afraid to come under scrutiny, indeed should welcome it, those in authority need to be aware that persistent assaults on the credibility of the UK’s free press and media only serves to feed the fake news agenda.”
The DCMS Committee’s interim report, published Sunday (July 29) follows months of investigation into fake news and its effects on democracy.
The report, leaked on Friday, says that social media companies such as Facebook and YouTube cannot hide behind claims they are platforms and not distributors of news. And the report calls for social media companies to be held responsible for malicious interference in elections through their services and could be taxed to fund education and regulation.
The Society of Editors said that while it welcomed the MPs’ recognition of the threats posed by fake news, it was cautious as to what form any regulation should be imposed on social media companies for fear this stifled freedom of expression.
“The debate over whether social media companies represent platforms or publishers is one that does need to be resolved and the Society welcomes such a conversation. But we should be wary of rushing to regulation that could mean supressing freedom of expression, something a free press and media in the UK should support,” said Murray.
Read the interim report here