Act quickly on Cairncross proposals, publishers urge government

Dame Cairncross

The Cairncross Review into the future of the UK news industry has delivered its final report, with recommendations on how to safeguard the future sustainability of the UK press.

At the heart of proposals put forward by the review is the creation of Institute to safeguard the future of public service journalism.

The Local Democracy Reporter Scheme should be provided with extra funding to expand, according to the report, while Ofcom should also undetake a new review of the market impact the BBC has on quality journalism in the UK.

The BBC is also urged to do more to support local journalism beyond its own work.

Publishers tonight called on the government to be ambitious and turn the proposals into reality quickly.

The independent review, undertaken by Dame Frances Cairncross, was tasked by the Prime Minister in 2018 with investigating the sustainability of the production and distribution of high-quality journalism.

It comes as significant changes to technology and consumer behaviour are posing problems for high-quality journalism, both in the UK and globally.

Dame Frances Cairncross said: “The proposals I have put forward have the potential to improve the outlook for high quality journalism. They are designed to encourage new models to emerge, with the help of innovation not just in technology but in business systems and journalistic techniques.”

DCMS Secretary of State Jeremy Wright said: “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.

“There are some things we can take action on immediately while others will need further careful consideration with stakeholders on the best way forward.”

Dame Frances was advised by a panel of experts from the local and national press, digital and physical publishers and advertising. Her recommendations include measures to tackle the uneven balance of power between news publishers and the online platforms that distribute their content, and to address the growing risks to the future provision of public-interest news.

It also concludes that intervention may be needed to improve people’s ability to assess the quality of online news, and to measure their engagement with public interest news. The key recommendations are:

  • New codes of conduct to rebalance the relationship between publishers and online platforms;
  • The CMA to investigate the online advertising market to ensure fair competition;
  • Online platforms’ efforts to improve their users’ news experience should be placed under regulatory supervision;
  • Ofcom should explore the market impact of BBC News, and whether its inappropriately steps into areas better served by commercial news providers;
  • The BBC should do more to help local publishers and think further about how its news provision can act as a complement to commercial news;
  • A new independent Institute should be created to ensure the future provision of public interest news;
  • A new Innovation Fund should be launched, aiming to improve the supply of public interest news;
  • New forms of tax reliefs to encourage payments for online news content and support local and investigative journalism;
  • Expanding financial support for local news by extending the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service;
  • Developing a media literacy strategy alongside Ofcom, industry and stakeholders.

The Government will now consider all of the recommendations in more detail. To inform this, the Culture Secretary will write immediately to the Competition and Markets Authority, Ofcom and the Chair of the Charity Commission to open discussions about how best to take forward the recommendations which fall within their remits. The Government will respond fully to the report later this year.

Simon Fox

Simon Fox, chief executive of Reach, the largest publisher of regional news in the UK, said: “We welcome this insightful and thorough report from Dame Cairncross which clearly demonstrates the vital role local journalism plays in the UK.

“We hope that the recommendations are taken forward on a cross-party basis as quickly as possible.”

Matt Kelly

Matt Kelly, Chief Content Officer of Archant, said: “So much of what local newspapers do is in the public interest, and the government is right to be looking to find ways to make sure we can continue to do that work, even as our industry faces increasing commercial challenges.

“We argued hard for an extension of the local democracy reporters and are pleased to see Dame Cairncross listened to us.”

Henry Faure Walker

Henry Faure Walker, CEO of Newsquest Media Group, said: “We welcome Dame Cairncross’s recommendation that support for public interest reporters, and in particular the great work done by the nascent BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporter scheme, should be expanded.

“Any support must be done in a way that maximises its contribution to local journalism — and this is best done by leveraging the extremely effective and efficient infrastructure already in place in regional publisher newsrooms up and down the country. Diverting funds to setting up an alternative news publishing infrastructure or activities that directly compete with existing local publishers would further undermine the business model for quality local journalism and risks not being sustainable.

“As Dame Cairncross says, there is no other area of journalism so important for the health of local democracy than local news, and finding a way to support local news is now a matter of urgency.

“The focus now moves on to Government who we hope will be bold and ambitious. We look forward to working with them on meaningful and high impact solutions that will support the incredibly important role that local publishers and their public interest journalism fulfils in communities across the length and breadth of the UK.”

The News Media Association said: “This is a thoughtful report which recognises the critical role of written journalism to democracy and sets out a series of detailed recommendations, many of which respond directly to the proposals put forward by the NMA and our members.

“These include a Competition and Markets Authority market study into the ‘complex and opaque’ online advertising market, new measures aimed at constraining the behaviour of the online platforms, an examination of the BBC’s impact on commercial publishers, funding support for local news publishers, and tax reliefs such as extending VAT zero rating for online news publications.

“We look forward to engaging with the government to discuss the Cairncross recommendations in more detail and how these should be taken forward as a matter of urgency to ensure they support independent journalism delivered by a strong and sustainable press.”