February 3, 2020
The Government has published its response to the independent review into the sustainability of high-quality journalism in the UK, which was led by the journalist and academic Dame Frances Cairncross.
The Cairncross Review looked at the overall state of the news media market; the threats to the financial sustainability of publishers; the impact of search engines and social media platforms; and the role of digital advertising. The Review identified a range of challenges facing the sector and made recommendations for government, regulators and industry.
The Government supports almost all of its recommendations, and in a Written Ministerial Statement Digital Secretary Baroness Morgan set out the Government’s formal response to the Review, saying:
“Newspapers play an invaluable role in the fabric of our society and are uniquely placed to undertake the investigative journalism and scrutiny of public institutions, including local councils and our courts. This is vital to help ensure a healthy democracy both nationally and at a local level.
“We know that the digital age poses significant challenges to newspapers though and are committed to supporting the industry in its transition to a more sustainable footing.”
In relation to the specific recommendations for Government made by Dame Frances, the Government has now:
- committed to take forward work on the recommendation to create codes of conduct to rebalance and redefine the relationships between news publishers and online platforms, in alignment with wider work on digital regulation. This would help ensure journalists in the UK are fairly treated and rewarded for their content;
- confirmed that the world-leading proposals for a new regulatory framework set out in the Online Harms White Paper should lead to platforms doing more to help people identify the reliability and trustworthiness of online news sources (in response to the call for online platforms’ efforts to improve users’ news experiences to be placed under regulatory supervision);
- progressed work on developing a new online media literacy strategy, with plans to publish this in the summer;
- established the £2 million pilot Future News Fund, run by Nesta (in response to the recommendation for a new fund focused on innovations to improve the supply of public-interest news, to be run by an independent body). The fund will invest in new technological prototypes, start-ups and innovative business models to explore new ways of sustaining the press in a changing landscape; and
- the Treasury will consider the case for a range of potential tax incentives to support the news publishing industry this year, including policy options on VAT, notwithstanding recent litigation in this area. The Government has also announced formally today that it is extending the £1,500 business rates discount for office space occupied by local newspapers in England for an additional five years, until 31 March 2025, as part of its efforts to support local and regional journalism.
The Government is not taking forward the recommendation for the establishment of an Institute for Public Interest News. The Government does not wish to have a role in defining what is “public interest” news as it says that this “risks interference with the freedom of the press”.
The Cairncross Review also outlined how news publishers are increasingly reliant on the online advertising market, and the threat this poses to the future sustainability of journalism.
Alongside the response to Dame Frances’ recommendations, the Government has committed to review how online advertising is regulated (see item above). The Government says that this work will complement and supplement other reviews underway in this area, including work by the CMA, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. To access the Government’s response in full, click here.