18.Although we heard evidence detailing many of the changes in journalism, experts were unanimous that the fundamental aim of journalism, and the public value it delivers, remain the same. Professor Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Director, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism said: “The most important roles that journalism plays that are of public value, and important to our society and democracy are that it helps people stay informed about and understand the world beyond their personal experience”.
19.Journalism is integral to liberal democracy, as News UK said, because it “shines a light on wrong doing and acts as an essential check on the behaviour of individuals in positions of power,” as well as providing citizens with the knowledge “to decide for themselves whether something is worthy of their business or their support”. Professor Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Director of Research Development and Environment in the School of Journalism, Media and Culture at Cardiff University, highlighted “If you do not have a functioning news system, if you do not have functioning journalism, then you do not have a functioning democracy.”
20.The main force behind change has been the rise of digital technologies, which have dismantled long-standing business models, expanded the amount of information available at any moment and allowed any individual or organisation to disseminate information around the world. Digital technologies continue to substantially impact all sectors, not just journalism, with 60 million workers potentially being substituted by technology by 2030 worldwide.
21.The consumption of news has been transformed, reaching a state that Rossalyn Warren, a freelance journalist, described as “chaotic,” with small “chunks” of news consumed from a variety of sources: “a headline here, a push alert there, an Instagram story—or [consumers] might occasionally search for an issue on Google and then not know what source is the most reliable one to trust.” The rapid growth of private messaging services, such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, has removed the scrutiny that comes with publicly sharing news on platforms, such as comments from other individuals or information from the platform on the provenance of the source. The proportion of readers using WhatsApp for news across 12 countries including the UK rose from 7 per cent in 2014 to 16 per cent in 2020. Streaming services such as YouTube are gaining importance as sources of news, with the proportion of people across 12 countries using it for news rising from 16 per cent in 2014 to 21 per cent in 2020. Ms Warren argued: “video personalities form an intimate bond with viewers over time, also making them a ground for amplifying misinformation and, more importantly, blurring the line between what is reporting, what is opinion and what is a personality online”.
22.The range of skills that journalists need has changed, although again we heard that the fundamentals remain the same. “The debate about the ongoing relevance of shorthand as an essential journalistic skill is a reminder that, while the development of digital knowledge is vital, there remains a significant market for the most traditional of talents,” the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) wrote. A vital part of journalists’ training is also on press regulation and media law, both of which are key parts of the NCTJ diploma.
23.Yet the range of skills required in a newsroom have increased, as Nic Newman of the Reuters Institute described. “Newsrooms used to have writers and subs and editors—now you have writers, videographers, podcast producers, data-visualisation experts, audience engagement teams, Snapchat and Tik Tok producers,” he said. “It is a much more complex mix.” Professor Kevin McConway and Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter highlighted the growing importance of journalism based on data. They warned that there is a “ a culture of innumeracy” among UK journalists, with too few people who are good with numbers going into journalism and too little training to improve data literacy.
24.Will Gore, Head of Partnerships and Projects at the NCTJ, emphasised that traditional skills are still needed in parallel: “Many of the skills that they [journalists] need are precisely the same as those that they needed 20 years ago, such as how to construct a story, how to follow the relevant legal and ethical requirements and so on, but they have had to take on a huge number of digital skills for tech”.
25.Consumers have become accustomed to free news. A business model based on advertising revenue underlies the provision of free-to-read journalism, with a paywall model relying on paying subscribers. However, advertising revenue has declined over the past 10 years (see Figure 3) and the growth in digital advertising has not offset the overall downwards trend (see Figure 4), making a model based solely on advertising difficult to sustain. Many observers think quality has suffered along with revenue; Michelle Stanistreet, General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), said that news organisations have cut costs and diverted resources away from front-line journalism in order to maintain profits.
26.Another concern is that publishers can be tempted to turn to clickbait: “stories that, through the use of an enticing headline and photograph, encourage readers to click through and read”. With the loss of advertising revenue, publishers have attempted to publish their stories faster and on more platforms—again, with fewer journalists: “This has led to a faster and shallower journalism commonly referred to as ‘cut and paste churnalism’,” Professor Natalie Fenton said.
27.The platforms are part of a bigger problem for news publishers, as Dr Kleis Nielsen of the Reuters Institute explained: they now dominate the advertising market, leaving publishers with “very low market power”. The role of platforms in advertising is discussed further in Chapter 4.
28.Publishers pursuing different business models face considerable challenges. Paywalls, for instance, “are not a panacea to the industry’s financial woes,” as Felix Simon, a Leverhulme Doctoral Scholar at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), said. Only 7 per cent of UK consumers pay for online news, with 39 per cent of them saying they want to help fund good journalism. National newspapers thus find themselves in what has been described a “winner-takes-most market”, with the relatively few who do pay having access to quality content. However, most outlets in the UK—including most national newspapers, local and regional print publications, and the public service broadcasters—have not created paywalls. Nor are paywalls necessarily a viable business model. Between 2013 and 2015, for example, News UK introduced a paywall for TheSun.co.uk; while more than a million subscribed at some point, there were high levels of churn even at the cost of £2 a week, and the maximum in any month was 220,000 subscribers. The Sun removed its paywall—and now enjoys around 36 million unique users per month.
29.While different factors contribute to which socioeconomic groups consume news, increasing use of paywalls risks exacerbating inequality of access and reducing the range of news sources available to those unable to pay. This is particularly the case for those who suffer from digital exclusion. As Ms Warren said, “If you live in poverty in the UK, you do not access as much high-quality news as wealthy people … especially online.”
30.Various other models exist, such as The Guardian’s reader funding model, although their long-term sustainability remains to be seen. Edward Iliffe, CEO of Iliffe Media, maintained that the key to a successful business model is quality: “quality is everything”. He pointed to the paradox of the industry making the “product worse” “when the going gets tough”, rather than investing. On the back of investment, “the advertising will follow”.
31.The news industry, in the UK as elsewhere, faces continual and profound change in three interconnected aspects: the tools it uses to create and deliver information; the ways in which its audiences find, access, and use that information; and the strategies it employs to sustain itself economically. Innovation in each of these areas is central to the activity of journalists and the organisations that employ them, as well as crucial to their ongoing sustainability.
32.Google highlighted the benefits of digital technologies, which they argue have reduced distribution costs, increased the number of outlets and enhanced the visibility of content for more producers, including smaller and niche ones. Google said that the result has been greater diversity and the ability for more minority voices to be heard: “The likes of Gay Star News and Pink News have, alongside the online operations of long-standing magazines such as Attitude and Gay Times, provided comprehensive news from a LGBTQ perspective. Publications such as The Voice have also been able to use the internet to expand their reach to BAME communities. Sites such as Gal-dem, with a focus on the female BAME perspective, have been possible because of the internet”. Diversity within the profession is discussed further in Chapter 3.
33.Although different organisations are following different strategies crafted to their market position, many successful adaptations reflect renewed attention to strategies for engaging audiences with their content. Early responses to the digital environment sought to apply a version of the 20th century advertising model: lure as many users as possible, with clickbait if necessary, and advertisers will pay to reach them. This model, however, proved poorly suited to a contemporary media environment in which consumers’ content options are virtually unlimited, and platforms such as Google and Facebook overwhelmingly dominate the advertising market, as described in Chapter 4.
34.We heard that many publishers are finding more success today with innovations that enable them to deliver content that is of value to particular audiences. The approaches they take are diverse, but broadly and as indicated in the rest of this section, they are doing so by seeking to turn each of the three challenges indicated above to their advantage. They are using technologies such as artificial intelligence to better understand their audiences, tailor and deliver content to them, and track their usage of that content so it can be continually adapted. They are becoming increasingly sophisticated at developing content tailored to the ways in which real people actually use it, a shift in focus—from what works for journalists to what works for readers, viewers and listeners—that takes in everything from the constantly evolving array of social media platforms, to interactive data visualisations of complicated topics, to novel storytelling forms built on creative audio and video techniques. Publishers are seeking to capitalise on the value of this content though economic models in which the revenue share from audiences grows as the share from advertisers continues to shrink. Growing numbers also are finding that collaboration with audiences and with other news organisations, both unthinkable not so long ago, can help fill gaps in their own reach and resources.
35.We heard about the success some media organisations and platforms have enjoyed in using innovative approaches to reduce costs and provide new services. Mr Thomas highlighted UK media outlets’ ability to take advantage of emerging capabilities:
“Membership and subscription models, solutions journalism, artificial intelligence technologies and other technologies to support news distribution and revenue are now emerging in a way they have not in the past five years. The UK is doing pretty well in this regard. There are notable examples of all those types of things in the UK. The UK has a good solid platform of media infrastructure, solid well-known regulation and good funding compared to a lot of the rest of Europe, which puts it in a really strong position.”
36.For example, we heard from Professor Charlie Beckett, Professor of Practice, Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics (LSE), about the impact of artificial intelligence for news organisations. According to Professor Beckett innovative use of new technologies and affordances can result in high-quality journalism—from major international investigations such as the Panama papers all the way to hyperlocal data on homelessness that can be used by local media–as well as greatly improved data about journalists’ audience, which allows content to be targeted to better serve news consumers.
37.We also heard, though, that not all segments of the news industry have embraced innovation and the shift to digital production and consumption. The advent of artificial intelligence offers one example, as Andrew Dickinson, Senior Lecturer in Multimedia Journalism, Manchester Metropolitan University, explained: “The industry’s response to AI has been pretty much the same as its response to most technological innovation: that is, in the first instance to ignore it, in the second instance to attack it, and then in the third instance to try to monetise it.” Although many media organisations are using AI to improve or innovate, he said, some reportedly are “making hard-and-fast decisions about replacing journalists or replacing the need for that particular resource because they can offload that to an AI”; examples include routine sports content and coverage of some local authority actions.
38.Another innovative business model, cited by the Professional Publishers Association, is the ‘Spotify’ model of ‘all-you-can-read’ subscription services such as PressReader, AppleNews+ and Readly. The Zuora Subscription Economy Index found that digital news and media subscriptions grew in March 2020 at three times the rate of the previous year, likely as a result of COVID-19. Whether a subscription model will succeed in the long term remains to be seen, however; the Association notes that growth in subscriptions has been “eclipsed by the decline in advertising and newsstand revenues”. Another option comes from Axate, which allows readers to pay for individual articles, rather than a full subscription. This is a development of the ‘metered’ paywall model adopted by the Financial Times in 2007 and The New York Times in 2011: occasional users are allowed to read a small number of items for free, helping boost advertising revenue, but regular readers must pay for more comprehensive access.
39.The challenge is harnessing and understanding this potential, said Professor Beckett: “The biggest problem they face is strategising that, having the resources and the knowledge from the management right through. That is not the knowledge to understand the algorithms or the black boxes, but just to understand the capabilities and limits of some of this tech.”
40.More broadly, witnesses pointed out that models for innovation should not rely solely on technology; doing so can lead to what Dr Julie Posetti has referred to as ‘Shiny Things Syndrome’, an “obsessive pursuit of technology in the absence of clear and research-informed strategies”. Rather, innovation should be “audience-focused and technology-empowered”. Mr Simon emphasised that innovation must rest on the foundation of “a strong identification of audiences with the respective outlet and a strong belief in its mission and journalism. Outlets have to make a credible case (in perpetuity) why the journalism they produce matters and why audiences should support them.”
41.There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model for innovation—and attempting to create one would defeat the aim of innovation. Dr Seth Lewis, Associate Professor, Shirley Papé Chair in Emerging Media, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, argued:
“Although there are some commonalities across countries in the ways that audiences access news and the way journalists do their work, there are crucial differences that we need to take into account. The difficulty is in determining when an innovation is something that should be modelled elsewhere, and how we learn from that.”
42.Different challenges face hyper-local, local, regional, national and international organisations. Larger, better-resourced organisations are more likely to have the funds to innovate. Mr Dickinson argued they are “the ones that are hoovering up the lion’s share of external monies—your Googles, Facebooks or BBCs. If, for whatever reason, a little bit of money haemorrhages from these organisations, over 75 per cent or 80 per cent of the revenue and the staff go to those large media organisations”, he said. Yet it is smaller organisations which “speak to communities where people will recognise themselves”. Small organisations have the agility and drive to innovate but may not have the financial resources required.
43.Professor Wahl-Jorgensen outlined the success of some hyperlocal or community news providers. These are “small, independently owned print or online publications which represent a specific geographic area. They publish locally relevant news and community-focused content without political, religious or commercial bias.” More than 400 hyperlocal sites operate in the UK, most of them established since 2010. However, most subsist on donations from readers and limited advertising revenue; many have an income of under £25,000 per year. A report commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has raised concerns about the impact of increasing commercial pressures on local newspapers’ ability to perform their civic role.
44.Even across hyper-local organisations, innovation differs widely. For example The Lincolnite raises advertising revenues based on partnerships with local businesses and agencies; The Bristol Cable sustains itself as a co-operative with a membership scheme and a quarterly print publication; and three community newspapers are supported by a community interest company, Social Spider. In Wales, news start-ups may receive a grant from the Welsh Government, which provides £200,000 to support independent community news producers. Across the UK, they may be supported from the £2 million Nesta Future News Pilot Fund or the BBC LDRS. The Nesta fund and LDRS are discussed further in Chapter 4.
45.Hyper-local organisations often only have one person working on the publication full time who are supported by local citizen journalists (see Box 2). Citizen journalists provide user-generated content, which consumers tend to find more authentic and engaging than traditional content. Photo- and video-journalism are a key tool for citizen journalists where there are no professional journalists on the scene, such as in the instances of the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami in Japan or 2005 7/7 London bombings, but there are citizens with smartphones able to record the incident. We heard from Professor Wahl-Jorgensen that citizen journalism can provide “invaluable” footage and imagery, although “there is also a growing recognition among journalism scholars and practitioners that it is not necessarily a substitute for the work of professional journalists.”
Citizen journalism involves private individuals, who are normally consumers of journalism, generating their own news content. They differ from freelance journalists in that they do not rely on journalism as a significant part of their income, they have not received formal training, and they do not disseminate this news through organisations; they create user-generated content. This content can take different forms and can contain text, pictures, audio and video. Social media plays a large role in its dissemination.
Widespread access to smart phones has been a key driver behind citizen journalism: citizens are more often the first on-scene for breaking news and can disseminate the story quicker than traditional media reporters. This also comes with new risks, as citizen journalists may not have conducted the same background research or source verification.
Between 2013 and 2018, The Guardian ran a project called ‘GuardianWitness’ which allowed readers to submit content for publication. 85 per cent of contributions were approved by the reviewing team. They included news, experiences and views presented through different forms of media.
46.Innovation has also come from small but national organisations, which “provide a slice of a ‘full service’ news outlet”. Examples include The Conversation, which provides specialist reporting on research; Full Fact, which fact-checks statements in the news; and Tortoise Media, which incorporates audience input in emphasising the context of news stories.
47.Professor Beckett of LSE drew a parallel with the arts: “You have massive art institutions such as the National Theatre, but then you will have a lot of tiny, fragile, often quite transient local arts levels, which may even be voluntary or community.” In the news industry, he said, there are both “monolithic local news and monolithic national news” organisations, but the overall trend is to “fewer but much bigger news media organisations”. At the same time, there is increasing diversity in “not just the hyper-local but the hyper-specialist type media organisations. It is a very fragile ecosystem. They might come up and disappear. It is partly about the so-called passion economy: people who can make a living just on their own doing something they are particularly excited about.”
48.These organisations are using technologies such as artificial intelligence to better understand their audiences, tailor and deliver content to them, and track their usage of that content so it can be continually adapted. They are becoming increasingly sophisticated at developing content tailored to the ways in which real people actually use it, a shift in focus–from what works for journalists to what works for readers, viewers and listeners–that takes in everything from the constantly evolving array of social media platforms, to interactive data visualisations of complicated topics, to novel storytelling forms built on creative audio and video techniques. They are seeking to capitalise on the value of this content though economic models in which the revenue share from audiences grows as the share from advertisers continues to shrink. Growing numbers also are finding that collaboration with audiences and with other news organisations can help fill gaps in their own reach and resources.
50.We welcome journalism organisations which are innovating to adapt to changes in the market, while continuing to hone traditional journalistic skills, producing high quality content and holding an understanding of their audiences at the heart of this innovation.
51.Trust is an imperfect measure of the reliability of journalism, although is often used as a measure for gauging audience engagement. For “up-market” newspapers, Dr Kleis Nielsen of the Reuters Institute noted, trust could simply be “deference more than an actual assessment”. Conversely, lower trust in digital titles could be due to unfamiliarity: “Some may be very trustworthy, but if people are not familiar with them, they may not yet have built that trust”. Moreover, consumers may still read a particular title even if they do not trust it, as they may have goals apart from a desire for reliable information: “because they find them diverting, entertaining, it gets their blood pressure up in the morning, or in other ways find them engaging.” Trust in journalism generically has long been low (see Figure 5). Recent events—including the 2007 and 2011 phone-hacking scandals and political polarisation around the 2016 EU referendum and the 2019 general election—have acted as flashpoints. Since 2015 trust has fallen by over 20 percentage points. The UK media are less trusted by the nation’s citizens than the media in any other surveyed country in Europe (see Figure 6).
52.Nonetheless, trust in the public service broadcasters as a source of news remains relatively high, with BBC News, ITV News and Channel 4 News enjoying the most brand trust (see Figure 7). This reflects JPIMedia’s view that “it is too simplistic to adopt a view that there has been a uniform decline in trust in journalism. Recognised news providers (across a variety of media) remain the principal method by which the majority of people access news content.” Professor Steven Barnett, Professor of Communications at the University of Westminster, told us that “there is clear and longstanding evidence that different kinds of journalism in the UK command different levels of trust”, dispelling the “potentially serious misconception in assuming that all journalism is regarded with similar degrees of confidence or suspicion”. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a critical test of trust in public service broadcasters, with audiences displaying higher levels of trust in PSBs on news related to COVID-19.
53.Nic Newman, Senior Research Associate at Reuters Institute, suggested that the overall decline in trust may be due to an abundance of sources of news: “that maybe these journalists did not have all the answers and there are actually different perspectives on the same stories.” He suggested that lack of trust in the media is one aspect of rising scepticism in general; a problem, however, is that scepticism has now tipped “into cynicism and the vilification or abuse of journalists”. As a result, “low trust is a real problem now for democracy and society, and we need to be talking about the fundamental solution of strengthened support for good journalism”. He outlined three proposals for restoring trust: politicians and ordinary people respecting good journalism, rather than undermining it; news organisations stopping “attacking each other”; and journalists focusing on the needs of audiences and less on the needs of advertisers.
54.Ms Warren pointed out that “mistrust in the news is not necessarily new”. However, she also said that contemporary mistrust looks different: “It has gone from ‘The media lied to us’ to ‘They are ignoring these stories,’ and that is coming from both the left and the right in the UK.” She put this perception down to algorithms, discussed further in Chapter 4, which give prominence to certain articles based on an individual’s past activity on the platform. Consumers, however, “may presume that this is a conspiracy in which no media are discussing the issue”. Ms Warren said one solution could be greater transparency by journalists on how they report their stories, demonstrating that journalism is not “writing up any old stuff that we think”.
55.Anna Hamilos, Senior Programme Manager at Nesta, believed that ‘fake news’ was a “big reason why people had mistrust in the news”. The issue of disinformation and fake news was recently covered by the House of Lords Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies report Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust and the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report Disinformation and ‘fake news’. We heard from Anna Mallett, CEO of ITN, that there is a “trend of unregulated and unreliable news sources on digital platforms, and currently there is no value to platforms in providing quality news; indeed, fake news that goes viral may ironically be of more value.” This is of concern to consumers, with 70 per cent of UK adults saying they are concerned about fake news online and 73 per cent of people in research across 27 markets being worried about disinformation “being used as a weapon”.
56.Adam Cantwell-Corn, co-founder of The Bristol Cable, believed that consumers of news look for impartiality not only in the news content but in the structure of the organisation. He linked trust to “accountability, transparency, and perceived or actual influence of proprietors or others”. People look for a transparent structure, at who owns the organisation, and whether the organisation is for profit or otherwise.
57.Organisations which provide online credibility ratings can help to provide greater transparency. Online credibility ratings are installed as a browser extension or ‘plugin’ which then provides the user with information on the news source being viewed. The source is rated by journalists employed by the organisation, who judge the site against different criteria. However, only a small number of credibility rating organisations exist, with the main organisations being NewsGuard, the Trust Project and the Journalism Trust Initiative. NewsGuard claim that as a result of their feedback more than 800 websites have improved one or more of their journalistic practices. For example, Reuters, The Times, The Sun, and the MailOnline posted detailed information about their journalists; Newsweek and Yahoo improved their corrections policies; Forbes labelled its advertising more clearly; and Al Jazeera disclosed its Qatar government ownership to its readers. In April 2020, NewsGuard received an endorsement from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP, regarding its work around empowering UK citizens against COVID-19 misinformation.
58.With an increasingly wide range of news sources available online, it is more important than ever that consumers have easy access to information about the credibility of their news publishers so they can critically assess news stories. We welcome credibility ratings and nutrition labels in browsers initiatives which seek to provide transparency, in particular those which note: whether publishers have disclosed how they are funded and who is in charge, including any possible conflicts of interests; whether they clearly label advertising; whether they provide the names, biographical or contact information of content creators; and by what process they respond to complaints and correct errors. We encourage the news industry and platforms to work together to build on these initiatives and make them widely available.
59.We heard that impartiality play an important role in creating trust. Vikki Cook, Director of Content Media Policy at Ofcom, argued that even among young audiences who do not watch the main broadcasters, which have the highest levels of trust,”when it came to big events or big breaking news stories … they do”. Participants in Ofcom’s study group also said that for big breaking news stories, they turn to “the proper broadcasters.” Ms Cook therefore argued that valuing impartiality and accuracy cuts across all groups and ages.
60.TV news is regulated by Ofcom under the Broadcasting Code to ensure due impartiality and accuracy. The Broadcasting Code does not apply to online content, although ITV and Channel 4’ say that they maintain the same standards online as on-air. The lack of oversight raises the possibility of public service broadcasters publishing content online which is not duly impartial or accurate and audiences trusting it because they assume it is regulated in the same way as broadcast content from the same brand.
61.The BBC’s online content is also not subject to the Broadcasting Code. However, Ofcom has overall responsibility for regulating the BBC—including its online content—and produces an annual report on its performance. Ofcom found that, among those who use them at least once a week, the number of people who believe that the BBC News website and app are impartial fell from 68 per cent in 2018 to 61 per cent in 2019.
62.Selina Swift, a student of Media and Communications Governance at the London School of Economics and Political Science, recommended that broadcasters which are subject to Ofcom rules offline should be subject to the same rules online. She explained:
“it is currently entirely up to the broadcaster as to whether they follow their usual standards or try something new. The danger of this choice comes from the temptation of profiting from digital platforms’ ability to commercialise, plus the heightened competition on social media platforms.”
“Before, an interviewer would put a contrary position in an interview… and that was always defended, because of course you take the contrary position, which is how the interview works. But then they repeat those same arguments on Twitter, which demonstrates that they were not taking a contrary position—it is their real position.”
Sir Robbie felt the problem was especially significant with broadcast journalism, as “people had assumed that all BBC and broadcast journalists were impartial”.
64.Julie Etchingham, a broadcaster for ITV, cautioned:
“Twitter is a seductive and tricky place for impartial news broadcasters to operate in because, of course, it is part of our instincts as journalists to want to take part in a conversation and to be part of the debate. We absolutely have to be rigorous in how we engage and about which stories we like or retweet … I absolutely see the pitfalls of being drawn in too deeply.”
65.Most controversies have related to Twitter. David Jordan, Director of Editorial Policy and Standards at the BBC, said Twitter:
“has become more adversarial, argumentative, combative, opinionated, polarised and sometimes actually rather toxic, and it can suck people in. The immediacy of it can be alluring and the live dynamics of it can be … seductive … it can become almost addictive for some of our journalists. We have had issues about the use of social media at the BBC where people have not adhered to our standards or have overstepped the mark.”
66.Social media can give journalists a false impression of what the public thinks, a concern highlighted by Sir Robbie. Only 29 per cent of the population uses Twitter. A news agenda driven by Twitter users is therefore shaped by its disproportionately young and highly educated users, as Figures 8 and 9 from a University of Manchester study by Jonathan Mellon and Christopher Prosser demonstrate. Research also shows that journalists can end up in ‘bubbles’, where they interact only with others like themselves.
Source: Jonathan Mellon & Christopher Prosser, ‘Twitter and Facebook are not Representative of the General Population: Political Attitudes and Demographics of British Social Media users’, Research & Politics (2017): [accessed 23 November 2020]
Source: Jonathan Mellon & Christopher Prosser, ‘Twitter and Facebook are not Representative of the General Population: Political Attitudes and Demographics of British Social Media users’, Research & Politics (2017): [accessed 23 November 2020]
67.The BBC asked Professor Richard Sambrook, Director of the Centre of Journalism at Cardiff University and former Director of BBC News, to review the issue. Tim Davie, Director-General of the BBC, told staff in his inaugural speech: “If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC.” In October 2020, the BBC announced new guidelines on impartiality and employees’ use of social media. Staff working in news or senior leadership positions, or who have a high profile, will be held to higher standards. Staff will complete new impartiality training tailored to their role.
68.In December 2019 Channel 4 banned non-political journalists from posting about politics as part of what a Channel 4 source called “a period of deep self-reflection” after “a number of errors made on social media by Ofcom regulated journalists across the industry”. Sky News has also imposed new restrictions on its journalists’ discussion of politics on social media.
69.Although broadcasters have a duty to be accurate and duly impartial, Ofcom’s broadcast code does not apply to broadcasters’ online content. Public service broadcasters have a special role in the provision of impartial and accurate news; it is important that trust in their brands is preserved. We welcome initiatives taken by individual broadcasters, including the recent guidelines announced by the BBC.
71.There is no real distinction between broadcasters’ social media accounts and those of their journalists. Ofcom should be empowered to ensure that public service broadcasters monitor the accuracy and impartiality of their journalists’ public social media posts and take appropriate action where necessary.
72.Media literacy is important for creating discerning consumers of news and in equipping consumers of news with the tools to hold the media to account. Professor Martin Conboy et al wrote that media literacy education can empower “citizens to hold journalism to account for its weaknesses and failures as well as recognise and reward its strengths and victories”, and argued that greater levels of trust depend on high levels of media literacy. Likewise, the fact-checking website Full Fact stressed that media literacy can ensure people are “better equipped to understand what affects media coverage, and can be more confident in identifying and challenging false or misleading claims.”
73.Central to media literacy is being able to engage constructively with online and offline sources, and to judge their provenance and content. The Communications Act 2003 places a duty on Ofcom to promote media literacy. Matteo Bergamini, CEO of ShoutOut UK, a network which runs political and media literacy programmes aimed at young people, told us that media literacy: “is how to critically understand the media we consume—online, offline, radio and TV, et cetera—as well as understanding misinformation, disinformation and fake news”.
74.Dr Alison Preston, Head of Media Literacy and Research at Ofcom, defined media literacy as running “from things such as awareness of privacy and of your own data and being able to recognise scams and so on to a set of attitudes and behaviours around critical understanding.” Ms Stanistreet of the NUJ highlighted the importance of asking questions such as: “Why did that person post that? Why did they say that? How has that been edited? Where does that information come from?”
75.The decline of print media and its growth online brings challenges for consumers as well as producers of news. The increasing ease with which individuals and organisations can publish news stories, which may be monetised by trying to attract as many ‘clicks’ as possible, raises the question of how readers can know whether what they are reading is from a reliable source. Dr Preston told us that it is important for readers to learn how to judge the provenance of sources:
“People need to be aware of the distinction between advertising and editorial and, because a platform may provide you with a list of sites, whether you trust all those links because that platform has returned it, whether you are aware of how particular online services are funded and therefore might be targeting you”.
76.Dr Preston said there was “a significant minority across the population who remain either unaware or unwilling to engage or be more aware online”. In print and broadcast media, the distinction between advertising and editorial is “a given for pretty much everybody”. But when Ofcom showed study participants a Google page where the first few search result links were advertisements, as displayed below the Google result links, only half the participants correctly identified the advertisements. Online credibility ratings, discussed earlier in the Chapter, are one way to help consumers of news understand the provenance of online news sources.
77.We heard that levels of media literacy tend to be lower among those from a lower socio-economic background, and that those from a lower socio-economic background are more likely not to use the internet. Among working age people (16–64), 13 per cent of those in DE households are offline compared with 3 per cent in ABC1/C2 households. Dr Preston found that understanding an understanding of how social media is funded “varies by socioeconomic group, so richer, AB households are more aware of these things than poorer households.” Mr Bergamini argued that people from a lower socio-economic background are more likely to be suspicious of media institutions: “Young people from low socio-economic backgrounds, not always but quite often, will feel more distanced from society, more alienated, more abandoned. That breeds a lot of anger and disenchantment with the Government, with society, with institutions in general.” Media literacy can be a tool to alleviate this disenchantment, helping to build a “healthy scepticism as opposed to the cynicism that, ‘Everything’s garbage, none of it’s true and I want to push away from it,’” he said.
78.We heard that while media literacy is a “crucial component of education for young people”, there is also a “benefit in it for older generations”. Research by Intuit & Norstat found that 78 per cent of young people sometimes check the facts of a news story, but only 46 per cent of over-54s do so. A study by researchers at New York University and Princeton found that US Facebook users over 65 shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as those aged between 18 and 29.
79.Mr Whittingdale acknowledged the importance of media literacy for elderly people: “young children need to be educated particularly about [online] safety. Then again, elderly people, for whom technology can be rather frightening and confusing, need reassurance as well.” Media literacy among the elderly is being addressed by organisations including the Carnegie Trust and the Good Things Foundation. Anaïs Adriaens-Allemand, International Project Manager at CLEMI, the French national media literacy body (see Box 2), explained that CLEMI produces a ‘family guide’ which aims to “create debate within the family, with parents and grandparents, on the importance of our own practices. The idea behind our guide is to help parents question their own social media practice and screen use.”
80.Media literacy can benefit the production as well as the consumption of journalism. Ms Stanistreet of the NUJ said media literacy encompasses informing students of what journalism is like as a career and making them aware of the opportunities it creates. Media literacy should “make schoolchildren think of journalism as a prospective career: ‘That might work for me.’ Often, when we go in and talk to schoolchildren, they have never really thought about reporting or journalism as something anybody like them could do, particularly if they do not know anybody among their families or friends who have been connected with the industry”, she said. This is particularly important for reaching students from a lower socio-economic background.
81.Ms Adriaens-Allemand of CLEMI (see Box 3) explained the advantage of a public body co-ordinating work on media literacy: “The link with the [French] Ministry of National Education gives us this specificity among different actors. All the actors come to us because we have direct access to schools and are part of the education system.” However, CLEMI is independent of politics, she said:
“It is more the link with teachers on the ground that is our strength. We do not have a political structure. We have a board with different media partners, media organisations and media associations that ensure our independence from political power. This gives us the ability to assure our partners that we are not working for the Government but with the education system”.
CLEMI (Centre de liaison de l’enseignement et des médias d’information) is the French media literacy body. A public body under the French Ministry of Education, it was founded in 1983 to promote media literacy education, helping students develop an understanding of, and interest in, the media and form skills of critical judgement as a citizen.
CLEMI’s organisational roles include identifying gaps in French students’ knowledge (such as, recently, data education), training and producing resources for teachers and families, and running a programme for students to produce their own journalism. Every year 30,000 teachers and other educational professionals receive government training on media and digital literacy. An optional media and digital literacy course is part of the secondary school curriculum.
In September 2018 the French government launched a new digital inclusion strategy to improve access to digital skills and infrastructure for the 6.7 million citizens who still do not use the internet. The plan is intended to support 1.5 million people each year, with a budget of up to €100 million. The Government also announced that it would invest €5 million over 18 months to create a series of ICT training centres called ‘Hubs France connectée’.
In addition, the French government has launched a ‘digital pass’ (‘pass numerique’) programme to enable 200,000 people to participate in up to 10 digital skills training sessions at little or no cost. After an initial €10 million investment, 1 million digital passes have been made available across 48 municipalities, allowing citizens to access workshops teaching them how to use the internet.
82.The UK Government has taken a less proactive approach to media literacy. We heard that the Government should do more to support media literacy. The Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies’ report Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust found there was a “focus on computer science, rather than critical digital media literacy skills” and recommended that “the Department for Education should review the school curriculum to ensure that pupils are equipped with all the skills needed in a modern digital world”, with critical digital literacy being embedded across the wider curriculum. Full Fact told us that the Government’s promised media literacy strategy should as a minimum include better coordination and oversight of existing media literacy initiatives.
83.However, Ofcom has worked on coordinating media literacy stakeholders through the Making Sense of Media programme, a programme which helps improve the online skills, knowledge and understanding of UK adults and children. Dr Preston told us of “an agreement that we should all do more to join together and pool resources and expertise and get more awareness of what works.” Collaboration also occurs within the News Literacy Network, a working group chaired by the National Literacy Trust and comprised of news organisations, NGOs and academics. The group helps teachers find the most useful resources about fake news and critical literacy.
84.The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) stressed the importance of this style of collaboration, stating that:
“any approach to improve media literacy needs to include input from organisations working widely across the media landscape including the newspaper industry, internet platforms, regulators and those interested in the reporting of particular issues.”
Emma Goodman, Policy Officer, and Professor Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE, suggested that coordination of the BBC, public service broadcasters, libraries, the National Literacy Trust and platforms should be orchestrated by an independent regulator or other body. They wrote that this body should make a “particular effort” to target vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups. Mr Bergamini echoed this call for coordination, asking “Whose job is it to bring it all together?” and suggesting this should fall on the Department for Education.
85.We heard that media literacy should not just be the responsibility of government; responsibility should also lie with digital platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, which are carriers of news. Edward Bowles, Director of Public Policy for Northern, Central and Eastern Europe at Facebook, accepted this responsibility: “there is almost certainly a great deal still to be done in relation to media literacy”. “There is a necessary attempt to make sure not only that what people are seeing on the platform is a reflection of their preference but that they can understand why they are seeing things”. Facebook has introduced features to help meet this goal, including tools on the menu bar that inform users why the content is being shown and allow them to block similar content. Tom Morrison-Bell, Government Affairs and Public Policy Manager at Google, agreed that platforms have a responsibility to ensure media literacy, outlining Google’s engagement with media literacy programmes.
86.This responsibility extends to media organisations. Media literacy “is the industry’s problem as well,” Mr Dickinson of Manchester Metropolitan University told us. “It is the industry’s job to be better at explaining what it is, what it is for and what it does.”
87.In a complex news landscape, media literacy is crucial. It means more than identifying ‘fake news’; it is about understanding journalistic processes and their value, how news is presented online and how it is funded. We commend the work of Ofcom and media literacy organisations in improving media literacy for young people. However, we are also concerned by evidence that people from lower socio-economic groups and older people have lower levels of media literacy.
88.Work on media literacy suffers from a lack of co-ordination. We recommend that a regulatory body, which could be Ofcom, the Digital Authority we proposed in our report ‘Regulating in a Digital World’, or another body, should co-ordinate work on media literacy across Government, media organisations, platforms, academia and charities. Given the crowded regulatory landscape this should not be a new body. This body should look to France’s CLEMI for effective ways to coordinate media literacy.
89.The Government’s upcoming media literacy strategy should include coordination between the Department for Education, Ofsted and Ofcom on how to better integrate critical thinking and media literacy into the school curriculum.
90.We heard that some news organisations have a disconnect with the communities they serve. Ms Cook explained that many participants in Ofcom’s regional focus groups felt that they were not properly represented within journalism: “They felt that a predominately white, middle-aged, London-centric agenda was still being chased.”
91.A YouGov poll conducted in April 2020 on trust regarding COVID-19 reporting found that, while middle- and working-class people distrusted newspapers to the same degree (71 per cent), there was more of a disparity on a regional level: the largest disparity was between 64 per cent for London and 75 per cent for the Midlands/Wales.
92.Libby Drew, Founding Director of On Our Radar, a non-profit communications agency which specialises in community reporting with marginalised groups, argued: “Media houses are often seen to be occupying an ivory tower, looking in from outside at the realities of civic life, cherry picking concerns and stories, and in doing so overlooking huge swaths of people’s experiences”. Ms Drew added that this cycle of mistrust is difficult to break. This disconnect is partly due to young people in communities growing up and seeing the “people they identify with routinely demonised in the press”, which can be “humiliating and frustrating and fosters hostility towards those platforms”. As a result, these young people may withdraw from engaging with the media as both creators and consumers. She warned that there is no easy solution, instead requiring a “sustained effort to rebuild burnt bridges”.
93.To alleviate this lack of connection with communities, Ms Warren, a freelance journalist, proposed a fund for independent and local freelance supporters working on news projects within their communities, as provided in the US by organisations such as the Pulitzer Center and the International Women’s Media Foundation: “we should have a system whereby local journalists dotted all over the UK can say, ‘Actually, I want to spend a month looking at the NHS in this corner of my town’”. Mr Cantwell-Corn advocated fostering trust by organisations helping arrange events in the community, in partnership with local organisations and through providing early-career journalism schemes. Dr Lewis placed also emphasised the importance of making journalism relevant to communities.
94.One further aspect of a loss of trust is the loss of physical presence of news outlets in the communities they cover. Paul Foster, Lecturer in Journalism at the University of Portsmouth, noted how “brands are no longer a visible presence on the streets and, in many instances, journalists have been removed from their communities”. This is a particular issue for chain-owned local papers, which have sought to create economies of scale by combining newsrooms or by consolidating news operations in regional hubs. Five conglomerates (Gannett, JPI Media, Reach, Tindle and Archant) account for 80 per cent of all regional titles, with a further 57 smaller publishers holding the remaining 20 per cent of titles. For TV the total spend by public service broadcasters, who are the largest contributor on productions in the nations and regions, on productions outside London declined by almost nine per cent between 2012 and 2018. In Public Service Broadcasting: as Vital as Ever we raised concern the unequal spread of TV production, recommending that “Ofcom should ensure that public service broadcasters uphold the spirit of regional production quotas to aid the development of regional skills and production companies based in different nations and regions”. A similar trend has been underway with radio, for instance with local and regional outlets owned by Bauer Media now broadcasting under the single brand Greatest Hits Radio.
95.We heard from Ms Cook of Ofcom that it is important for journalists to be authentic: consumers prefer stories which come from a journalist who “looks and sounds like me, so someone who understands the issues around me. It is not someone who has been parachuted in from London to tell me a story.” Michael Jermey, Director of News and Current Affairs at ITV, also raised the importance of having regional media, saying “There is a relationship between regional presenters and an audience that a lot of viewers find really reassuring”. He emphasised that ITV had not deviated from the more traditional, region focussed model: “The way we do that is the way the ITV regions have been doing that since the 1950s. We do it in a modern context with modern technology and we operate in different ways, but the key to ITV regional news is that it is deeply rooted in the regions in which it operates”, although admitted that “15 or 20 years ago there were more of what are sometimes described as non-news programmes—current affairs or lifestyle programmes—across the regions.”
96.While regional consolidation may result in economic savings, we encourage continued engagement with communities as part of news, TV and radio production through use of new technologies. Increased programme making in and for the regions can also help bring about an expansion of journalism, creating jobs in local areas and providing opportunities for aspiring journalists, particularly for those from a socioeconomically disadvantaged background; this could help promote the Government’s “levelling-up” agenda.
97.News organisations which have launched ‘engaged journalism’ schemes to build relationships with the communities they serve should be commended, as should those which have increased transparency by explaining their journalistic processes in innovative ways. We believe that an important way to serve communities better is by ensuring that newsrooms are representative of their audiences. We consider this issue in Chapter 3.
98.Several witnesses raised the decline in court reporting, describing it as an important part of public interest journalism which is ripe for innovation. According to Megan Lucero, Director of Bureau Local, an investigative journalism network, the BBC considered including court reporting in the LDRS but decided against it partly due to the legal and resource requirements. “How do you support people to write about family courts, which are incredibly complicated and where the people reported on need a lot of protection? That level of reporting requires a lot of additional resources,” Ms Lucero said. She said researchers from Bristol University went to every magistrates’ court for a week and found that the majority of courts did not have a journalist present. Chris Summers, a specialist crime reporter, also noted that many court cases are not covered “by a single reporter”, adding that news providers usually report these cases on the basis of a press release from police forces.
99.Mr Whittingdale agreed that “it is very rare now to see a court reporter perched, taking a record of the proceedings”. Mr Whittingdale argued that the LDRS should be extended to cover courts. In its response to the Cairncross Review, the Government stated that “organisations including DCMS, the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS [Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service] are working together to identify what more can be done to facilitate journalists’ access to and reporting of court proceedings.”
100.Mr Iliffe of Iliffe Media, stressed the importance of court reporting to the public: “We did a micropayments test in one of our newspapers, where we would charge 20p to read content. Strangely, most of the content that people paid for was court reporting.”
101.Both Ms Lucero and Mr Iliffe argued that one of the biggest challenges is a lack of digitisation in courts. Mr Jones called the increase in digitisation “piecemeal”. With increased use of platforms and mobile technology by court reporters, as well as more video cameras in courtrooms, courts “have gradually shown more willingness to accommodate media interests”. However, he suggested that court reporters could further be aided by repealing the ban on publication or broadcast of audio recordings in court (Contempt of Court Act 1981) and the restrictions on court photography (Criminal Justice Act 1925). He said the audio ban was made “with the convenience of court users such as barristers in mind, outweighing open justice considerations”. Recently, restrictions have been partially relaxed through the Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020; however, this order applies to TV cameras filming judges passing sentences only for murder, sexual offences, terrorism and other serious high-profile criminal cases in the Crown Court in England and Wales. Filming has been allowed in the Supreme Court since its creation in 2009 and in the Court of Appeal since 2013.
102.Reporters are not allowed to use smartphones for recording in court. Mr Jones said it would be “unobtrusive” to allow reporters to “put their phones on a table in front of a barrister giving an opening statement, or a judge delivering sentencing remarks, much in the manner of recorders left running at a press conference”. Mr Jones supported both video and still photography in court, saying the images would “assist the visibility of court stories when published online”.
103.The Coronavirus Act 2020 introduced temporary provisions which enable participants in court hearings to participate via video or audio link or via telephone, due to restrictions on travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the Act participants in hearings can join via audio or video link, and criminal, family and civil courts and tribunals are able to make directions to live stream such hearings. Accredited journalists who wish to report on proceedings remotely are able to submit a request, and there have been examples of where courts have enabled the media to have remote access to hearings.
104.There are still restrictions on unauthorised photography and recordings. The explanatory notes to the Coronavirus Act acknowledge that the restrictions contained in the Criminal Justice Act 1925 and the Contempt of Court Act 1981 were created “long before the concept of a virtual hearing was thought possible”; the Act therefore creates similar offences in relation to unauthorised photography and recordings in the context of virtual hearings.
105.Mr Iliffe highlighted another obstacle to adequate court reporting: the closing of court buildings, which has left those which remain open less likely to be located near publishing offices. “If I want to cover a court case relating to some misdemeanour in Bury St Edmunds, I have to travel 100 miles, as a round trip, on the off chance that the court is running to timetable and so on, to get the story,” he said. “If that story could just be transcribed and made available online, our journalists could deal with that from anywhere in the world”. Crown Court transcripts can be requested, although there is no transcription service in the Magistrates’ court as it is not a court of record; appeals are given a fresh hearing, with no account of the pervious case. However, since September Magistrates’ court listings have been published online.
106.One innovation introduced by Caerphilly Media, an independent newspaper publisher in South Wales, is building a live, searchable database of every case heard in magistrates’ courts in England and Wales. The initiative is funded by Clwstwr, a Research and Development partnership, and Google’s Digital News Innovation Fund. However, the data currently are provided in PDF documents, sent by the courts, that can run to 100 pages; these documents can be difficult to search and stories of public interest are easy to miss.
107.A central role of journalism is to publicise the work of public bodies, including courts. However, we have heard concerns about the limited availability of online data about court proceedings. We welcome the Government’s commitment “to identify what more can be done to facilitate journalists’ access to and reporting of court proceedings”.
108.We welcome the introduction of the Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020. However, restrictions on use of audio, photography and video in court remain and are arguably outdated in today’s multimedia news environment.
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32 McKinsey & Company, ‘How will automation affect economies around the world?’ (14 February 2018): [accessed 1 October 2020]
35 Nic Newman et al., Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020 (June 2020), pp 33–35: [accessed 2 September 2020]
38 Written evidence from the National Council for the Training of Journalists ()
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49 Ibid., p 22
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68 (Dr Seth Lewis)
70 (Professor Karin Wahl-Jorgensen)
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81 Magda Konieczna, ‘Reimagining newsroom collaboration: how two European news nonprofits are inviting citizens in’, Journalism Practice, vol 14 (2020), pp 592–607:
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85 Written evidence from JPIMedia ()
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87 Ofcom, ‘Covid-19 news and information: consumption and attitudes’ (August 2020): [accessed 19 November 2020]
88 (Nic Newman)
90 (Rossalyn Warren)
95 Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee, (Report of Session 2019–21, HL Paper 77); Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, (Eighth Report, Session 2017–19, HC 1791)
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98 Edelman, 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer (January 2019), p 19: [accessed 19 October 2020]
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101 Nic Newman et al., Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020 (June 2020), p 22: [accessed 20 July 2020]
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105 Ofcom, Review of BBC news and current affairs (October 2019) p 13: ; Ofcom, News consumption survey 2018 (July 2018) p 98: [accessed 23 November 2020]
106 Written evidence from Selina Swift ()
107 Sir Robbie Gibb was Director of Communications for 10 Downing Street, 2017–19.
112 Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, ‘United Kingdom, Digital News Report 2020’ (June 2020: [accesssed 23 November 2020]
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119 Written evidence from Full Fact ()
120 Communications Act 2003,
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149 Written evidence from Emma Goodman and Professor Sonia Livingstone ()
151 (Edward Bowles)
154 (Tom Morrison-Bell); written evidence from Google (); Google’s engagement with media literacy programmes includes Be Internet Citizens, aimed at teenagers and designed to teach media literacy, critical thinking and digital citizenship; Be Internet Legends, a free educational programme “to empower Key Stage 2 pupils with the knowledge and skills they need to be safe and confident online”; NewsWise, a free, cross-curricular news literacy project for 9–11 year olds; and The Student View, “a programme which works with schools, businesses, and the media to help young people spot disinformation, create trusted local news content, and become creative and confident writers.”
157 YouGov, ‘YouGov/Sky Survey Results’ (April 2020), pp 5–6: [accessed 20 July 2020]
158 Written evidence from Libby Drew ()
159 Supplementary written evidence from Libby Drew ()
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180 Written evidence from Richard Jones ()
182 The Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020 ()
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185 Coronavirus Act 2020,
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188 Coronavirus Act 2020,
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