back to article The UK's Cairncross Review calls for Google, Facebook to be regulated – and life support for journalism

A UK government-backed review has decided against a punitive tax on Google and Facebook – but called for competition authorities to investigate their core business. It also wants a new news quango. The review – chaired by Dame Frances Cairncross, a former senior ed at The Economist – was set up to investigate the viability of …

  1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    Watching the watchers

    Surely the greatest need in journalism is to investigate governments. How's that going to work ?

    1. m0rt

      Re: Watching the watchers

      Good question.

      People need to hold politicians to account. We don't currently. And you can see the results. Just blatent soundbites that mean nothing and make great headlines and politicians who can say anything they pretty much want to get into power, or get the vote they want, then after, when the reality hits, they seem to be...well fine and still politicians.

      But since hard hitting journalism seems to be* on the wane, (BBC - you are a prime example of this), what hope is there?

      *To me, at least.

      1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        Re: Watching the watchers

        BBC news on Radio 4 is fairly good and regularly asks hard questions.

        I just wish I could say the same about the "news" on the BBC website, which seems to be 95% dross, rather nauseous dribbling over celebs and "human interest" stories.

        I can't comment about their TV news - or anybody else's TV news for that matter - because I manage very nicely, thank you, without a TV set in the house. And, no, I don't watch TV on catch-up - news or otherwise.

        1. stylistics

          Re: Watching the watchers

          With the departure of Eddie Mair, Radio4 news is dominated by the superannuated Humphrys who is long past his prime and resorts to bluster over fact.

          1. DiViDeD Silver badge

            Re: superannuated Humphrys

            Superannuated? John Humphreys?

            I'll have you know that John is only a few years older than me, and nobody would describe me as ….

            oh shit

    2. Chris Miller

      Re: Watching the watchers

      The government decides what constitutes 'news'. The Party decides what constitutes goodthink.

      Hmm, where have we seen that before? 1984 was written as a warning, not a bloody instruction manual.

    3. smudge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Watching the watchers

      Surely the greatest need in journalism is to investigate governments. How's that going to work ?

      Well, her uncle John was a Soviet spy - supposedly the fifth man after Maclean, Burgess, Philby and Blunt.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Watching the watchers

        > supposedly the fifth man

        No supposedly about it - he was also the (N)KGB's man at Bletchley Park.

  2. wiggers

    Most news publications, with the exception of the BBC, do so to make money. Mostly from advertising and partly from subscription. There is a market for news, however loose the definition. There is no monopoly. Therefore there is no need for taxpayers' money to be thrown at a non-existent problem, especially not yet-another-QUANGO.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > "Therefore there is no need for taxpayers' money to be thrown at a non-existent problem..."

      Precisely. The market for real news will never die, because it's driven by a basic human instinct to discover dangers in the local environment. People want to hear the bad news and they want it now. And if they become convinced that the news is lies, they will stop being gratified by it and look elsewhere for Truth.

  3. alain williams Silver badge

    Objective, in depth, no favours journalism is suffering

    When I were a lad I bought the Times almost every day, as did many who I knew (OK some might have bought the Grauniad, Torygraph or Currant Bun [The Sun for you 'mericans]). Now I rarely do so, I can get news & opinion free on-line without getting out of my chair. I do give the Guardian £50/year as thanks for not pay-walling their site (I'm looking at you Murdoch).

    The result is that most news sites have to have a lot of click-bait to get page views to report high eyeball counts to advertisers. Click-bait is also cheap to generate. So quality suffers.

    Facebook, Google, etc, are pure click-bait, the more outrageous the content the more eyes, so fact drowns under fantasy & fabrication. It is so easy for nonsense or malice to form opinions, there is little cost to someone writing this stuff to get many people to believe it; years ago spreading of ideas was expensive.

    I have changed my mind: I used to think that the media should survive on their merits; but we risk losing losing the Fourth Estate who should hold the powerful accountable and be the pin to burst wacky ideas. So some tax on big Internet to fund solid journalism would be a good investment.

    The question is: who benefits ? Those with my view on life or those who hold your view ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Objective, in depth, no favours journalism is suffering

      This assumes that the Fourth Estate are not already paid for, part and parcel, by the powerful. Favorable stories buy access, access nets more stories, favorable stories buy more access, ad nauseum. How many media-favored politicians and political operatives have you seen go on to become media stars after their public service? It's a self-perpetuating and incestuous business.

      Expecting the taxpayers to foot the bill for content they no longer wish to support voluntarily will not foster better journalism. It will merely ensure that whoever holds the purse-strings in government will get the favorable coverage they're paying for.

      So long as speech is free, you needn't worry that objective journalism will die. There will always be someone willing to take up the pen and hold the powerful to account, even when the media-at-large seems unwilling to do so. It's up to us to ensure that the Internet allows these voices to be heard.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Newspaper's lack of a sustainable business model is not the government's problem

    Looks to me that given how much dross is in the average newspaper, there's scope to reduce costs. No surprise no one is calling out the BBC as a monopoly and state funded supplier though :-(

  5. Daedalus Silver badge

    And so it was in days of yore..

    "And Royal Commissions by the score

    Added to Wisdom’s bounteous store:

    The Simple Foods Commission found

    That turnips still grow underground;

    The Poultry Farms Commission heard

    That turkeys were a kind of bird;

    While in an office in the City

    The famous Vicious Drugs Committee

    Sat through ten epic calendars

    To learn if women smoked cigars;

    And with the help Gupp’s party gave

    Britannia proudly ruled the wave.

    (Reported to be wet-but see

    Marine Commission, Section D.)”

    - Leslie Charteris, "The Saint and Mr. Teal"

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    On the subject of journo's...

    For a site in a 'UK' domain, claiming to be predominantly UK focussed, why can you not use '&' or 'and' instead of a comma in the headlines?

    I know it originates in american dead tree editions to save space, why in 2019 does it persist in web pages? fair enough if the article is written by a US based journo about US based issues and they know no better but this 'news' originated in the UK

    I find it very irritating and after spending most of the day gutting, scaling and pin boning three large Salmon,only to find the fish kettle was in the shed being a mortuary for four young mice, I felt I had to vent......

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: On the subject of journo's...

      I find it very irritating and after spending most of the day gutting, scaling and pin boning three large Salmon,only to find the fish kettle was in the shed being a mortuary for four young mice, I felt I had to vent......

      Would it be fair to say...

      First-world problems?


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: On the subject of journo's...

        Fair enough - the rest still stands, as does other 'mercanisms such as 'calling out', 'reached out to', 'hunkered down' etc. that media luvvies seem to think will endear them to the yoof if they use in their pieces to camera or webpage!

  7. Starace

    Oh joy!

    The great outcome of proposing yet another quango for the right sort of people to get on as a way of further feathering their nests and regulating the proles, and the prospect of government getting involved in deciding what's the right sort of news and ensuring it gets promoted.

    Brilliant. I can hardly wait.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just throw them out

    them being Google and Facebook

    after freezing their UK bank accounts first in lieu of unpaid taxes.

    They really don't contribute anything positive to this country.

    That nice shiny new Google building in Kings Cross would make a great place to house London's homeless.

    Then go after the Social Media 'influencers' (as seen on Panorama last night)

    1. beast666

      Re: Just throw them out

      I bet you voted Remain.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Just throw them out

        Leave will involve Google and the like actually paying UK taxes on UK income. No incorporating in Ireland for sandwiches, double or otherwise :-)

  9. lafnlab
    Big Brother

    "Institute for Public Interest News"

    Ministry of Truth not good enough?

  10. Homeboy

    So do you trust the government (not just today but for the long term future), through its totally impartial and independent (cough) regulator, to control what you see, who shows you and what the permitted news sources say about the government itself?

    It's already quite clear if you regularly sample a few news sources from across Europe or the USA that what goes on in their countries and how it's reported here are two hugely different things as our broadcasters and other media all have quite strong agendas that they always push...and that's without a new totally impartial and independent (cough) regulator sitting above them to ensure the state approves of what we can see.

    I'd rather we made sure that no media group, be it the BBC, Sky Facebook, Google or something not yet created, is allowed to dominate/control/edit/censor news sources and that no external news sources are blocked.

    We'd be better off putting a "First Amendment" into law than tinkering with who we can access.

  11. CAPS LOCK Silver badge


    A relative?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cairncross?

      Sounds like a mixed breed of terrier from the Scottish Highlands

  12. Gene Cash Silver badge

    About the current newspaper situation

    This is very illuminating by a guy that was there.

    Look at the original Twitter thread for corroborating tweets by other journalists.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: About the current newspaper situation

      Just an FYI:

      Everything from the question mark forward in the web link you posted is a "Facebook Click Identifier" and should be avoided.

      Google has started to do something similar with their search engine as well and should also be avoided.

  13. heyrick Silver badge

    a tax to fund journalism

    Journalism? What's that?

    My news app (cough, yes, Google) presents a variety of stories from a variety of sources and it is really really easy to spot the British sources - the Daily Mail is usually screaming about something, the Telegraph lie with fancy words, and the Express either go in for offensive puns our predict extinction level weather events. In pretty much all of the cases it'll be either blatantly fake news (snowmageddon didn't wipe us all out) or, worse, it'll be "opinion pieces" presented as news articles (meaning, as it is opinion, they can print whatever rubbish fits their agenda). This of course represents about 15% of the site content. The other 85% is speculation on who might be shagging who on Strictly, who is making a comeback to some soap or other, and a load of stuff either about celebrities I've never heard of, or Holly Willoughby.

    With that in mind, I really struggle to wonder why anybody would want to be forced to pay for such rubbish. The "newspapers" are suffering not because of the internet but because they're all bullshit and propaganda for whatever causes they believe in. Leave, remain, it doesn't matter. I've often found that I've had to look to the media of other countries (and other languages) to discover wildly differing stories than are put out by the likes of the British press. A tax won't fix this, it'll just be more of your money pissed up the wall. Typical Tory mentality...

  14. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

    Some suggestions for the CMA...

    ...CMA will be able to identify how efficiently the online advertising market is working...

    It's not. At least not for consumers.

    ...and what remedies, if any, are needed...

    1. Kill it with fire;

    2. Nuke it from orbit;

    3. [Insert preferred cliched destructive remedy of choice].

  15. RyokuMas Silver badge

    So in summary...

    "Okay, we're can't fine or tax them as their retaliation could do far more damage to us than anything we throw at them..."

    "Christ, how did that happen?"

    "Well, everybody bought into the free stuff and 'do not evil thing'... but that's not the point! C'mon, we need to be seen to be doing something here!"

    "Wait a minute... how about we say we want to review what they do and set up a watchdog to keep an eye on them in future?"

    "Hmmm... no threat of retaliation, looks like we're doing something and jobs for our mates - that's genius!"

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021