A year-long investigation, led by Frances Dame Cairncross, into the future of the British news media has recommended measures to address the advertising dominance of technology platforms and the need to ensure sustainability of the news sector.
According to reports in The Guardian and the BBC, the Cairncross Report calls for:
1) A public investigation should be launched into the market dominance of Facebook and Google in the advertising marketplace.
2) A new regulator should be developed to monitor the relationship between technology companies and news outlets.
3) A series of recommendations should be implemented to save local journalism and ensure high-quality journalism in the UK:
• Direct funding for public-interest news outlets, with public funds used to support the reporting of local democracy through a new Institute of public interest news.
• An investigation by the competition regulator into the online advertising marketplace, which would consider whether Facebook and Google’s position is too dominant.
• A new code of conduct between publishers and large tech companies, overseen by a regulator which would ensure tech firms treat news publishers fairly.
• Tax relief for publishers which invest in public interest journalism, potentially by giving charitable status to some publishers.
• Removing the 20% VAT tax on digital news subscriptions, bringing online paywalls in line with printed newspapers.
If put in place, these reforms could reverse the drastic decline in both local news outlets and frontline journalists. Statistics show that the number of journalist in the UK fell from an estimated 23,000 to 17,000 today.
Cairncross said that job losses at local newspapers meant there was a crisis in the coverage of democracy. “The cost of investigative journalism is great and rarely seems to pay for itself … given the evidence of a market failure in the supply of public-interest news, public intervention may be the only remedy.”
Jeremy Wright, the UK’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, responded to the report by saying the government would consider it and provide feedback later this year.