Matt Hancock’s move follows week in which Donald Trump attacked CNN as ‘fake news’ for reporting on dossier on his Russia links.
Ministers have summoned media bosses for talks on “accuracy” in journalism amid growing concern over the rise of fake news. Matt Hancock, the minister of state for digital and culture policy, has asked UK newspaper industry representatives to join round-table discussions about the issue.
Earlier this week, the US president-elect, Donald Trump, attacked CNN as “fake news” for reporting on an unverified intelligence dossier about his links to Russia. BuzzFeed published it in full while acknowledging that it could not vouch for its veracity. Facebook also announced a project to build stronger ties with news organisations following allegations that it was responsible for propagating falsehoods during the US election.
The UK government’s decision to hold talks on the issue follows Hancock’s statement to the House of Commons last November that ministers were “considering the implications of the dissemination of fake news on social media sites”.
The News Media Association has previously warned ministers that Google and Facebook were unfairly making money out of journalism produced by its members.
“There is now an urgent need to look at the value chain of digital news, and the industry is ready to play a full part in working towards finding a solution which sees the content creators fairly rewarded for their investment in news production,” said Lynne Anderson, the News Media Association’s deputy chief executive.
“The recent debate around fake news has again highlighted the vital importance of the quality journalism produced by news media publishers which underpins democracy by holding power to account.”
Labour has also established its own inquiry into the changing ways that news is consumed and shared online, as well as the practical, political and ethical issues raised by fake news. Michael Dugher, the Labour MP leading his party’s inquiry, said: “The dominance of tech giants like Google and Facebook means they are often the gateway into accessing news material – something that gives them huge power over what we see.
“And with that power must come greater responsibility. It leaves the government facing similar policy challenges over plurality, ownership and potential monopolies that previous governments faced when newspapers were the dominant force.”
Ashley Highfield, chief executive of the NMA, met Hancock late last year to discuss threats to newsgathering organisations from online platforms which earn considerable advertising revenues from displaying journalism produced by the traditional news media.
Hancock told parliament: “There is a huge challenge in maintaining high-quality journalism when advertising revenues increasingly go to the platform, but the costs fall on the content provider or newspaper.”
Newspapers are fighting government proposals that would force them to pay legal costs in libel cases even if they win in court. It would apply to papers who do not sign up to state-backed regulation.
The majority of the industry – not including the Guardian and Financial Times – has instead signed up to a system of self-regulation under the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which started work in September 2014. The Guardian and FT have their own systems of self-regulation.