Lords report calls for tech platforms to pay for news and industry-wide diversity charter

  • 27 Nov 2020

NUJ backs peers recommendations, but calls for a bolder response and levy on tech giants to fund innovation and greater media plurality.

The NUJ's response to the recommendations made in the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee report, Breaking News? The Future of UK Journalism, which asked the government to fix the "dysfunctional" online ads market and make platforms pay to use news:

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"The House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee report correctly identifies the need for the tech giants to be brought to book for their stranglehold on the media industry and the unfair competition for advertising revenue. An Australian-style model to make these platforms pay for the content they presently help themselves to would be welcome.
"The peers' report also makes sound recommendations on the need to enforce broadcasters to publish diversity data and an industry-wide charter to encourage a wider field of applicants from all backgrounds into journalism.
"The report also chimes with the NUJ's Fair Deal for Freelances campaign by recommending better rights for the self-employed, including reforming copyright law to make freelance–author copyright ownership inalienable. The peers should also take credit for pushing further for public interest journalism to be recognised as a charitable purpose.
"But there is scope to be much bolder. A levy of tech giants would provide the means to support innovation and plurality and help this industry out of the crisis caused by the pandemic and towards better health. A more strategic body – such as a Journalism Foundation – is needed to increase media plurality, champion public interest journalism and rebuild the present broken media model."

Peers said they wanted the Digital Markets Unit – proposed in the Furman Review in March 2019 and agreed by the government – to be set up urgently to regulate online platforms that have 'strategic market status' and a new code of conduct. The government has now announced it would establish and resource a DMU from April 2021, housed in the Competition and Markets Authority.

Secretary of State Oliver Dowden said the unit would draw up a code of conduct for the tech giants which would create a level playing field with smaller businesses, give people more control over their data and define the relationship between online publishers and publishers and newspapers.

Lord Gilbert of Panteg, chair of the Communications and Digital Committee, said:

"Journalism is important to a healthy democracy. There's an opportunity for the government and organisations to come together, step up and support journalism – now and in future. Online advertising is crucial to news publishers' success, but there's a fundamental imbalance of power between them and platforms such as Facebook and Google whose overwhelming market dominance means they dictate the terms on which they use publishers' content, including whether and how much they pay for it.
"Publishers need platforms far more than the platforms need them and are disadvantaged by a dysfunctional online advertising market. It's essential that the government acts swiftly to remedy this and sets up the Digital Markets Unit as a matter of urgency. The possibility that it could be delayed until 2022 or later is unacceptable – the news industry can't afford to wait that long."

Report recommendations

  1. The government should set up the proposed Digital Markets Unit (DMU) as a matter of urgency and ensure that it has the powers and resources it needs. The possibility that the establishment of the DMU could be delayed until 2022 or later is unacceptable. 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 DMU provided that the government acts swiftly.
  2. The Online Harms Bill should be used to legislate for a mandatory news bargaining code modelled on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's proposal. Once it is set up, the DMU 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.
  3. We encourage the industry to draw up a diversity charter, including the following commitments:• To advertise all vacancies openly • To develop approaches to internship recruitment for applicants which provide a level playing field for those with diverse backgrounds and experiences • To pay all interns enough to cover all necessary expenses, including accommodation • To report annually on the diversity of their workforce and the steps they are taking to address inequalities of opportunity. This should include data on retention and progression and cover the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010 as well as socio-economic background.
  4. 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. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Legislation banning the use of recording devices in court should be reviewed as should consideration of permanently implementing the relaxation of live streaming of certain court hearings.
  9. Urgent reform is needed 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 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.
  10. The government must take the lead on developing a more strategic approach to funding journalism. It should use its convening power to provide a forum for organisations to co-ordinate their schemes and share successes.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.
  11.  Ofcom should be empowered to regulate online news content produced by UK public service broadcasters in the same way it regulates broadcast content.
  12. To support pluralism in the industry, the BBC should include an aggregator section on the BBC News website and app linking to stories on smaller and local news organisations' websites.
  13. 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.

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