DM2023: News Recovery Plan
Initiatives promoting public interest journalism and broadcasting were discussed and Siobhan Holliman moved a motion on the Future of Media Commission.
Keeping it Local, one of the DM Week Talk-ins, brought together speakers from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland who discussed the huge amount of work made possible by the union’s News Recovery Plan.
This was published during the pandemic, and sets out a roadmap to reboot the news industry with a series of measures and recommendations to support and promote local news and public interest journalism and foster greater plurality and diversity.
It has been used as a blueprint to persuade the Irish, Welsh and Scottish governments to revitalise their news industries, including setting up institutes to promote public interest news and fill news deserts. A working group in Wales is about to publish its recommendations and a similar Scottish group published its report in November 2021.
One of the recommendations was to impose a levy on the tech giants which have destroyed the tradition business model of newspapers, by taking virtually all the digital advertising revenue and helping themselves to news content produced by others. Since then, Google and Facebook have introduced schemes offering a few peanuts from their trillion-dollar coffers to pay for content in secret deals with the established, larger news organisations.
An NEC motion noted that countries such as France, Spain and Canada had brought in legislation to curb the commercial clout of the tech giants. In the UK, the government has just published the digital markets, competition and consumers bill which will give the Digital Markets Unit (DMU) powers to issue multibillion-pound fines if tech giants breach consumer protection rules. The bill aims to tackle issues including fake online reviews and subscriptions that are difficult to cancel.
The bill will require platforms to engage meaningfully with publishers to reach agreement on payment for content and should commercial negotiations fail, a final offer arbitration mechanism is expected to take effect. The NUJ has long called for fair and transparent structures enabling journalists and publishers to be rewarded for their material used to educate and inform the public.
The DMU’s remit will be able to interrogate algorithms’ impact on competition and request compliance reports from companies. This is welcomed by the NUJ, as too often publishers are excluded from insights on why content may be underperforming and revenue affected when changes to the algorithms have been made.
The NEC’s motion said the union welcomed the announcement by Keir Starmer that a Labour government would force tech giants to pay news publishers for their content if the party wins the next election and the NUJ will now be seeking have an input in any drafting of a code “to ensure that any revenue is spent on frontline news content, not dividends or corporate bonuses and that any small, independent, community or freelance organisation unable to negotiate directly is included”.
The work of various NUJ bodies in Scotland was acknowledged by the Edinburgh Freelance branch in persuading the Scottish government into setting up the journalist-led working group which has led to the establishment of the fledging Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute.
David Gow, Glasgow branch, said the institute would act as a champion of public intertest journalism in Scotland where investment in journalism is desperately needed to allow the media to play its vital role in covering democratic institutions and reflecting Scottish culture.
An institute to promote public interest in Wales looks likely to be one of the recommendations made by the industry’s working group to the Welsh government. A motion from the Welsh Executive Council said it deplored the awarding of public money to Newsquest by the government via the Books Council of Wales “whose expertise is in a different area”. Newsquest had been given funding for a Welsh language news website which was closed after just five months in operation.
Welsh Executive Council member Martin Shipton said: “Last year our worst fears were confirmed when a Welsh language news website, Corgi Cymru, was closed down months after it was awarded £400,000 of public money to provide a digital news service for four years. It received funding from the Books Council, which is funded in turn by the Welsh government. Previously Golwg 360, an offshoot of the Welsh language current affairs magazine Golwg, received an annual grant of £200,000 to run a digital news service. The Books Council decided to halve Golwg 360’s grant and provide the other £100,000 to Corgi Cymru. However, Newsquest decided to pull the plug on its own funding of Corgi Cymru, which ceased functioning at the end of last October. Jobs were lost, as was a new news outlet.”
That is why, he said, the establishment of Welsh media institute could be the arms-length body to award these grants.
A composite motion from the Irish Executive Council and Continental European Council welcomed the publication of the Future of Media Commission and noted that many of the recommendations reflected in the proposals were put forward by the NUJ. Siobhan Holliman, Irish Executive Council, said the government took a year to publish its response and accepted 49 of the recommendations, but put back a decision on the TV licence system. The motion said this was to be regretted as it undermined public service broadcasting. Conference heard from Eleanor Mannion who said the poor funding of RTE meant staff shortages and stress for those working there.
Siobhan said the government had now agreed funding for a local democracy scheme and to boost court reporting which will come on stream at the end of the year. The motion called on the union to put pressure on the government to make the report’s recommendations a reality. The composite also said the proposed EU Media Freedom Act “provides an opportunity for a European-wide campaign to promote public interest journalism, including public service broadcasting”.
In the run up to DM, the news broke that Buzzfeed was closing its news operation and Vice Media Group was preparing to file for bankruptcy, and was looking for a buyer. These digital news organisations were once seen as the future of news, attracting huge interest from private equity groups. Buzzfeed developed from producing cheeky listicles to Pulitzer-prize winning stories. But after a decade the bubble bust – it’s the end of an era.
A motion from London Independent Broadcasting and New Media (now renamed the London Digital Media Branch) said the economic strategy of high debt and huge profitability had been exposed as a failure. The motion expressed solidarity with those who have lost their jobs and the union has now been tasked to investigate new funding models for journalism.