On Tuesday, Frances Cairncross, a British economist, journalist, and academic shared her work in a report, which touches upon the present and future of the news media market. This independent report named, The Cairncross Review: A Sustainable Future of Journalism, suggests that online platforms including Google, Facebook, Apple, and Twitter should be regulated in their way of distributing news.
Along with giving an insight into the current state of the news media market, it suggests some measures online platforms could take to ensure the financial sustainability of publishers. It also shows how search engines, social media platforms, and digital advertising are impacting the news market.
The report highlights that most part of the digital advertising revenue goes to Google and Facebook because of their reach and also the personal data of users they collect. This makes it difficult for publishers to compete and as a result, their revenue has seen some dip. To address this revenue gap between online platforms and the publishers and also prevent the spread of misinformation, the review suggests that it’s time for the government to step in.
How government can bridge the revenue gap and prevent the spread of fake news?
The review proposes online platforms to define ‘codes of conduct’ to put a check on the commercial arrangements between publishers and online platforms. To ensure compliance with these codes of conduct, this process should be overseen by a government regulator. The regulator will be someone who has an understanding of both economics and digital technology. They will have the powers to command information and can also set out a compulsory set of minimum requirements for these codes.
In recent years, online platforms have come constantly under public scrutiny because of the spread of fake news and misinformation. That is why these platforms started putting into place some measures to help users identify reliability and the trustworthiness of sources. Though the review recommends expanding these efforts, it adds that “This task is too important to leave entirely to the judgment of commercial entities.” This essentially means these measures will also be regulated. Initially, this will limit to gathering information on the steps online platforms are taking to improve people’s awareness of the origins and quality of the news they read.
In a discussion on Hacker News, some users were for this proposal while some were against. One of the users commented, ”So on to the idea that Google and Facebook should be regulated, I think it’s an absolutely horrible idea. We are talking of censorship conducted by the government, the worst kind there is. And thinking of our own government, I can’t think of people that are more corrupt or incompetent. Just fucking educate people on fact-checking and elementary logic. Push for some lessons in high-school or whatever.”
Another user added, “Facebook or Google need to be regulated because they are radicalizing people in search of more engagement to sell more ads. That is not a good situation, and there is no incentive for them to stop doing it. As it is the best way to get more money.”
In a different report published by The Wall Street Journal, it was reported that Apple and major publishers are negotiating over a subscription news service. Apple has suggested a revenue split according to which 50% of a suggested $10/month membership fee will go to Apple. The remaining 50% will be shared among the participating publishers. The WSJ reports that publishers will most likely not be agreeing to this revenue split.
For more details, read the report published by Frances Cairncross.