Cairncross report recommends levelling of the playing field for UK journalism

  • Online platforms should have a ‘news quality obligation’ to improve trust in news they host, overseen by a regulator

  • Government should explore direct funding for local news and new tax reliefs to support public interest journalism

  • A new Institute for Public Interest News should focus on the future of local and regional press and oversee a new innovation fund

The Cairncross Review into the future of the UK news industry has delivered its final report, with recommendations on how to safeguard the future sustainability of the UK press.

The independent review, undertaken by Dame Frances Cairncross, was tasked by the Prime Minister in 2018 with investigating the sustainability of the production and distribution of high-quality journalism.

It comes as significant changes to technology and consumer behaviour are posing problems for high-quality journalism, both in the UK and globally.

Dame Frances Cairncross said: “The proposals I have put forward have the potential to improve the outlook for high quality journalism. They are designed to encourage new models to emerge, with the help of innovation not just in technology but in business systems and journalistic techniques.”

DCMS Secretary of State Jeremy Wright said: “A healthy democracy needs high quality journalism to thrive and this report sets out the challenges to putting our news media on a stronger and more sustainable footing, in the face of changing technology and rising disinformation. There are some things we can take action on immediately while others will need further careful consideration with stakeholders on the best way forward.”

Dame Frances was advised by a panel of experts from the local and national press, digital and physical publishers and advertising. Her recommendations include measures to tackle the uneven balance of power between news publishers and the online platforms that distribute their content, and to address the growing risks to the future provision of public-interest news.

It also concludes that intervention may be needed to improve people’s ability to assess the quality of online news, and to measure their engagement with public interest news. The key recommendations are:

  • New codes of conduct to rebalance the relationship between publishers and online platforms;

  • The CMA to investigate the online advertising market to ensure fair competition;

  • Online platforms’ efforts to improve their users’ news experience should be placed under regulatory supervision;

  • Ofcom should explore the market impact of BBC News, and whether its inappropriately steps into areas better served by commercial news providers;

  • The BBC should do more to help local publishers and think further about how its news provision can act as a complement to commercial news;

  • A new independent Institute should be created to ensure the future provision of public interest news;

  • A new Innovation Fund should be launched, aiming to improve the supply of public interest news;

  • New forms of tax reliefs to encourage payments for online news content and support local and investigative journalism;

  • Expanding financial support for local news by extending the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service;

  • Developing a media literacy strategy alongside Ofcom, industry and stakeholders.

The Government will now consider all of the recommendations in more detail. To inform this, the Culture Secretary will write immediately to the Competition and Markets Authority, Ofcom and the Chair of the Charity Commission to open discussions about how best to take forward the recommendations which fall within their remits. The Government will respond fully to the report later this year.

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport