Breaking News? The Future of UK Journalism Contents

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

Below is a list of all of the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations (recommendations appear in italics).

The changing production and consumption of journalism

1.Although the forms journalism takes and the technologies by which it is produced have changed, its fundamental purposes and importance in a democratic society remain the same. (Paragraph 49)

2.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. (Paragraph 50)

3.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. (Paragraph 58)

4.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. (Paragraph 69)

5.The Government should empower Ofcom to regulate online news content produced by UK public service broadcasters in the same way it regulates broadcast content. (Paragraph 70)

6.There is no real distinction between broadcasters’ social media accounts and those of their journalists. (Paragraph 71)

7.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. (Paragraph 71)

8.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. (Paragraph 87)

9.Work on media literacy suffers from a lack of co-ordination. (Paragraph 88)

10.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. (Paragraph 88)

11.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. (Paragraph 89)

12.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. (Paragraph 96)

13.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. (Paragraph 97)

14.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”. (Paragraph 107)

15.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 (Paragraph 108)

16.We recommend that the Government review legislation banning the use of recording devices in court and consider permanently implementing the relaxation of live streaming of certain court hearings. (Paragraph 109)

Journalism as a career

17.Equality of opportunity to enter journalism is not only a question of fairness: it is also crucial for their output that newsrooms benefit from a diversity of views and perspectives. This should be a natural result of different backgrounds and life experiences being represented in the newsroom, so long as newsrooms create and maintain a pluralistic culture. (Paragraph 143)

18.We have heard that news organisations increasingly expect applicants to have completed several internships, limiting the socio-economic diversity of potential applicants. Although not a complete solution, creative approaches to recruiting interns can help level the playing-field and limit the effects of unconscious bias. It is also crucial that interns are paid. (Para 144)

19.We encourage the industry to draw up a diversity charter, including the following commitments:

20.We recommend that the Government should grant Ofcom’s request to extend its power to oblige broadcasters to report on the gender, race and disability of their staff to other characteristics. Socio-economic background should be one of the characteristics. We reiterate our recommendation in ‘Public Service Broadcasting: as Vital as Ever’ that, as 48 per cent of public service broadcasters’ programmes—including news and current affairs programmes—are made by independent production companies, Ofcom should have the same powers to report on crews making programmes for public service broadcasters whether they are in-house or independent. (Paragraph 145)

21.Going to university can be a valuable route into journalism. However, it has become almost the only route. As many local news organisations’ training schemes have been cancelled, the industry has increasingly relied on universities to train journalists. The requirement for a Bachelor’s degree and increasing desirability of a Master’s degree limits the diversity of backgrounds and experiences of members of the profession. (Paragraph 172)

22.As in our reports on the theatre industry, the advertising industry and public service broadcasting, we have again found that the Apprenticeship Levy is failing young people who would like to work in the media or creative industries. (Paragraph 173)

23.We reiterate our call for urgent reform to allow the pooling of funds to create training agencies and to allow a portion of Levy funds to be spent on apprentices’ wages or other expenses associated with employing them. The Government’s failure to act has cost young people and the industry. If, despite its professed commitment to apprenticeships, the Government still will not reform the Levy, it should provide—in parallel—arm’s-length funding for news organisations to take on apprentices, which they could pool to set up a training agency. Local news organisations should receive priority for any such funding. (Paragraph 174)

24.We are concerned by the challenges freelance journalists face in dealing with news organisations, in which there is usually a significant imbalance of power. (Paragraph 195)

25.We welcome the Government’s proposals to strengthen the powers of the Small Business Commissioner and encourage the Government and the Commissioner to work with freelance journalists to ensure that these new powers address the difficulties they face relating to unfair payment practices, including late payment, payment on publication and ‘kill fees’. The Government should consult on whether further legislation is needed to strengthen the rights of freelancers, including whether contract law should be amended to ensure that freelancers are not solely liable for legal costs arising from their work and whether copyright law should be reformed to make freelance–author copyright ownership inalienable. (Paragraph 195)

A sustainable future for journalism

26.We welcome the completion of the Competition and Markets Authority’s market study on online platforms and digital advertising. This Committee called for the market study in April 2018. It was launched in July 2019, after the Furman review, the Cairncross Review and Which? supported our recommendation. (Paragraph 226)

27.The Government should set up the proposed Digital Markets Unit as a matter of urgency and ensure that it has the powers and resources it needs. The possibility that the establishment of the Digital Markets Unit could be delayed until 2022 or later is unacceptable. The news industry cannot afford to wait that long. There are strong arguments in favour of undertaking a market investigation into the online advertising market in parallel to this work. However, the CMA is justified in leaving the issue for the Digital Markets Unit provided that the Government acts swiftly. (Paragraph 227)

28.There is a fundamental imbalance of power between news publishers and platforms. Due to their dominant market position, Facebook and Google can stipulate the terms on which they use publishers’ content. This includes whether and how much they pay for news appearing on their platform, which news sources their algorithms rank most highly and how much notice they give publishers of changes to these algorithms. Algorithms are a product of the human value judgments of their designers, but there is a lack of transparency about them and designers’ possible biases. We will examine this issue further in our next inquiry, on freedom of expression online. (Paragraph 254)

29.The Government should use the Online Harms Bill to legislate for a mandatory news bargaining code modelled on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s proposal. Once it is set up, the Digital Markets Unit should take on responsibility for this and keep under review publishers’ concerns about the ways in which platforms use their content. The Government and regulators should work closely with international partners on this issue. (Paragraph 255)

30.There are a range of initiatives to support news organisations, including the Nesta Future News Pilot Fund, the BBC Local Democracy Reporting Service, the Facebook Journalism Project and the Google News Initiative. The independence of these schemes is crucial. (Paragraph 284)

31.However, we call on the Government to take the lead on developing a more strategic approach to funding journalism. The Government should use its convening power to provide a forum for organisations to co-ordinate their schemes and share successes. Encouraging greater coherence will help funds more effectively support established news media organisations to adapt to rapid digital change. The Government should encourage those with the deepest pockets to come together, step-up and support journalism—both now and as new challenges emerge in future. (Paragraph 284)

32.We have heard concerns from across the industry that smaller news organisations can be a victim of the BBC’s online success. (Paragraph 292)

33.To support pluralism in the industry, we recommend that the BBC should include an aggregator section on the BBC News website and app linking to stories on smaller and local news organisations’ websites. (Paragraph 293)

34.Charitable status can be beneficial for some news organisations; however, this model is relatively uncommon in the UK. Charitable news organisations must comply with charity law restrictions on campaigning and may not use their resources for non-charitable purposes. This means that while charitable status may not be advantageous for more traditional business models, it could provide a new not-for-profit model for the future. It could be beneficial for some community news outlets, as well as other innovative start-ups and niche publications that provide a valuable civic function but can struggle to achieve commercial success. (Paragraph 308)

35.We welcome the Charity Commission’s recognition that our inquiry has evidenced the public benefit of public interest journalism and encourage the Charity Commission to continue to recognise public interest journalism as a charitable purpose. (Paragraph 309)

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