By Co-Founder and Managing Director Matt Gillow
The word of the year – Fake News.
Dictionary publishers Collins made the revelations recently, with use of the word up a staggering 365% in 2017. The phrase rose to prominence during President Trump’s campaign against the media – or, against those in the media who disagree with him - and remains a widely-employed term almost a year after the election. Whilst the rise of fake news has caused a profoundly worrying uprising against the concept of a free press, it has also has helped reveal some issues with corporate-controlled media.
Namely, that it isn’t free. Three men, Rupert Murdoch being the most infamous, own over 70% of the British press. Whilst we haven’t had the same stand-off between the executive and the press as the United States has seen, there have certainly been clashes – with outlets such as the Sun vilified in particular, and Corbynites raging at what they believe to be concentrated attacks on their beloved leader. If government owned over 70% of the media, the very nature of our democracy would be called into question; why, then, is it acceptable for the most important instrument in engaging the public with information controlled by corporate giants, with their own personal interests and agendas?
Nick Davies, the giant of investigative journalism, recently told our Editor-in-Chief Guinevere Poncia that he doesn’t use Facebook or Google – unashamedly sceptical of their disproportionate grip on information and media, and distrustful of the detrimental effects the two giants have had on the journalism industry. He argued that “even if one set of words does manage to break through the cacophony (of the internet controlled press,) they run into a secondary problem, that the public domain now is so heavily infected with falsehood and unreason that the words are far less likely than in earlier eras to effect change of any appropriate kind”. In short, there is so much information that truth has less of an impact - this is the penchant of ‘fake news’, and it means that more often than not, the public doesn’t know, entirely, what is actually the truth anymore. As such, online publications such as the Canary, Breitbart, and Reddit, which aren’t trusted for their obvious bias, means that power is being driven back to the trusted sources – that is, the papers controlled by media moguls.
The question is, how should they be regulated without compromising press freedom? The government has already conducted one assault on the free press. The Leveson enquiry was a "chilling attack on the very nature of freedom”, according to Michael Gove, and I agree with him – without investigative journalism, one of the most important aspects of the press, democracy and fair play politics would be in danger. In this sense, government intervention on such an aggressive scale is not the answer. Having said this, Nick Davies exposed the phone hacking scandal through brilliant investigatory skills, so it’s no wonder we’re singing from the same hymn book; when it comes to journalism – democracy and corporate monopolies aren’t conducive either. Whilst News International and competitors need regulating in order to preserve the essence of the free press, the way to do it wasn’t by clamping down on investigative journalism. In the proposed clamp down on the press, legal fees would be entirely payable by newspapers – stopping smaller, regional papers doing much of their job, and forcing a greater monopoly on the press.
However, it isn’t too late for this government to do something beneficial for both the press and the spread of information. The Media Cap was a policy first introduced to the public sphere in Ed Miliband’s 2015 election manifesto, and since built on by the Green Party and TalkPolitics. According to our policy, a media cap would mean a 20% cap on national media ownership – breaking up media monopolies and ensuring that the press receives the real benefits of the free market: competition, innovation, variety of choice, and power in the hands of consumers. All this, without the detriment to free speech that clamping down on investigative journalism would have. To us, this is the ideal compromise.
In summary, fake news is on the rise, and requires action. The way to stop it isn’t by going down the path that Theresa May’s government has been – that is, with thoughtless assaults on free, investigative journalism – but with breaking up monopolies to ensure true variety, competition, and sincerity.
Sources and Further Reading
- Guinevere Poncia, Interviewing Nick Davies, Talk Politics, 18 November 2017
- Nicholas Watt, Leveson inquiry has chilling effect on freedom of speech, says Michael Gove, The Guardian, 21 February 2012
- Fear for press freedom as peers want news sites to pay opponents' legal fees, Express, 9 February 2017
- Sophie Savage, Policy Analysis: 20% Cap on National Media Ownership, TalkPolitics, 4 September 2017