A regulator should oversee tech giants like Google and Facebook to ensure their news content is trustworthy, a government-backed report has suggested.
The Cairncross Review into the future of the UK news industry said such sites should help users identify fake news and “nudge people towards reading news of high quality”.
It also backed tax reliefs to encourage the provision of local journalism.
In addition, the report called for a new Institute for Public Interest News.
Such a body, it said, could work in a similar way to the Arts Council, channelling public and private funding to “those parts of the industry it deemed most worthy of support”.
The independent review, undertaken by former journalist Dame Frances Cairncross, was tasked with investigating the sustainability of high-quality journalism.
Its recommendations include measures to tackle “the uneven balance of power” between news publishers and online platforms that distribute their content.
Services like Facebook, Google and Apple should continue their attempts to help readers understand how reliable a story is, and the process that decides which stories are shown should be more transparent, it said.
“Their efforts should be placed under regulatory scrutiny – this task is too important to leave entirely to the judgment of commercial entities,” according to the report.
A regulator would initially only assess how well these sites are performing, but if they are not effective, the report warned “it may be necessary to impose stricter provisions”.
Yet the report fell short of requiring Facebook, Google and other tech giants to pay for the news they distribute via their platforms.
‘Draconian and risky’
Dame Frances told the BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan that such “draconian and risky” measures could result in firms like Google withdrawing their news services altogether.
“There are a number of ways we have suggested technology companies could behave differently and could be made to behave differently,” she said.
“But they are mostly ways that don’t immediately involve legislation.”
The report instead recommended “new codes of conduct” whose implementation would be supervised by a regulator “with powers to insist on compliance”.
Other recommendations included:
- An exploration of the market impact of BBC News, conducted by broadcasting regulator Ofcom
- Expanding financial support for local news by extending the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service
- An investigation of the online advertising market, conducted by the Competition and Markets Authority, to ensure fair competition