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Regulator should oversee online content in UK, says report

By Earle Gale in London | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2019-02-13 00:23

A United Kingdom government-ordered review says a state regulator “may be needed to assess the quality of online news”.

The finding was among conclusions reached by senior journalist and academic Frances Cairncross, who was asked by Prime Minister Theresa May to study the future of the UK news industry and the sustainability of high-quality journalism.

Cairncross said tech giants should have a “news quality obligation” and that content they carry ought to be overseen by a regulator. She said companies, including Google and Facebook, should try to improve the level of trust users have in their content.

“While each platform should devise solutions which best fit the needs of their particular users, their efforts should be placed under regulatory scrutiny,” the report said. “This task is too important to leave entirely to the judgment of commercial entities.”

The Cairncross Review suggests sites be set up to help users identify fake news and “nudge people towards reading news of high quality”.

And the wide-ranging report also calls for tax breaks for “public interest” journalism, and taxpayer funding for public-interest local news providers covering unfashionable but important areas, such as local courts and municipal councils. She said a new Institute for Public Interest News could manage the funding and direct it toward “those parts of the industry it deemed most worthy of support”.

The Cairncross Review found tech giants were absorbing most online advertising revenue, making it hard for traditional publishers, such as newspapers, to compete.

The report writers say the intention behind the suggested changes is to improve the quality of news coverage and reduce the impact of untrue stories that appear online.

“If it becomes clear that efforts have not increased the reach of high-quality news, or had a measurable impact on the quality of people’s engagement with online news, it may be necessary to impose stricter provisions,” the report adds.

The UK’s culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, said the government is likely to act on some recommendations immediately.

“A healthy democracy needs high-quality journalism to thrive and this report sets out the challenges to putting our news media on a stronger and more sustainable footing, in the face of changing technology and rising disinformation,” he said.

But The Cairncross Review stops short of calling for all social media platforms to be regulated in the UK, and does not demand social media companies pay to reuse news content. And it does not call for social media companies to be treated as publishers, something that would have introduced a legal liability over content they carry.

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