Who will determine what counts as public interest news worthy of government cash, ask editors
The Society of Editors has welcomed the announcement today of a £2m government pilot fund to support public interest journalism — but warned about the tricky challenges the fund will face.
The Society urged against making the fund’s eligibility criteria too narrow and questioned who will identify what is journalism of public interest.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright announced The Future News Fund today following recommendations in the Cairncross Review. It will be administered by an independent organisation called Nesta.
Details of who can apply for funding, how to apply for funding, and who will set the criteria for funding have yet to be confirmed by either the Government or Nesta, which has previously worked closely with the hyperlocal news industry.
The Society of Editors said the pilot fund was a welcome step, but care must be taken that support for media innovation is not restricted to what only a small band of people consider to be in the public interest.
“While we support whole-heartedly the idea that new and innovative forms of delivering news, in particular from local communities, should be supported, the danger lies in who will decide which initiatives are worthy and which are not,” commented Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray.
“Once a principle is set that some forms of journalism are considered to be in the public interest, then the opposite — journalism not considered to be important — is also created.
“For instance, where few would argue that coverage of local government and courts is essential public interest journalism, there is an argument to be made that grass roots sports are also an important part of life that bonds communities together. Will voices supporting a broad range of coverage be heard?
“Dame Frances also singled out investigative journalism as worthy of support, but how will this sit with state-funding? How will the independence of investigative journalists and their publishers from the influence from the fund-providers be ensured?
“These are decisions that should not be taken by a narrow group behind closed doors, but in open debate with the industry,” added Murray.
In her review, Dame Frances Cairncross described the different types of news which could be categorised as ‘public interest’ — including investigative journalism and reporting on the activities of public institutions.
The pilot fund will launch in autumn 2019 and run until the end of the financial year. Its outcomes will be used to shape decisions about whether to run a full, expanded fund in the future.
The Government will publish its full response to the Cairncross Review later this year.