In the last year, investments in innovation of news and the extension to journalism of the charity status could have opened up new routes for news organisations to become more financially viable. The announcement of a Digital Markets Unit, which will counter the dominance by big tech, and the drafting new laws that protect against online harms can help contain the rise of super-platforms to the detriment of news organizations.And that public intervention is needed to maintain them.
The Furman Review on digital competition, also published in 2019, argued that mergers and antitrust enforcement were not enough to counter the dominance of companies such as Google and Facebook. The report proposed the creation of a digital markets unit that would, among other things, be responsible for drafting a code of conduct to which digital “big animals” would have adhere to.
Cairncross’s review led to the launch of a new innovation funding that aims to encourage new methods and approaches for public interest news. The UK government has given research institute NESTA a grant of PS2 million for the distribution amongst the most innovative UK news projects. NESTA received 178 proposals, and awarded grants to 20 projects for four-month prototypes to be completed in 2020.
Furman’s report triggered on November 27, an announcement that the government was establishing a new Digital Markets Unit in order to regulate the competition behaviour of tech platforms.
Within days of this announcement, and months before this unit has been set up, Facebook sought to pre-empt some of its actions by saying that it would Start paying UK news organizations for their content and give news a dedicated section on Facebook.
On November 27, the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee approved the extension of the charitable status to journalism. If they meet the criteria, news publishers can now qualify for tax relief and foundation grants. Local news organizations that are non-profit and small may be able to sustain themselves while providing a vital public service.
Online Harms Legislation is still coming this year. The government originally hailed this as the first global attempt to tackle online harms in a “single and coherent manner”. The legislation is still being drafted, and we are not sure what it contains. However, at least the technology platforms will be held more accountable for their actions.
It is still far from over in the search for sustainable news models. These are green shoots which could help to support the gradual recovery for public interest news. As a difficult and torrid year draws to a close, and with the festive spirit, let’s celebrate the good news.