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07 September 2017

Lord Black: Industry Must Be Allowed to Adapt to Challenges of Digital Revolution

The news media industry must be allowed to adapt to the challenges posed by the digital revolution unburdened by “excessive and punitive legislation” such as the "odious" Section 40, Lord Black of Brentwood said on Thursday (7 September).

Speaking in a House of Lords debate on improving digital understanding in UK society, Telegraph Media Group executive director Lord Black said he was confident the industry could adapt and pointed to the huge audiences the news media industry was now reaching through digital platforms.

Lord Black, chairman of the News Media Association’s legal, policy and regulatory affairs committee, said: “Today 39 million people in the UK digitally access news on the industry’s websites – and many hundreds of millions worldwide. And last year, content on those websites drove one billion social media interactions.

“That is a phenomenal success story – but it has come at a price. As all noble Lords know, the digital revolution has destroyed the business model which sustains the news publishing industry as advertising revenue has shifted on line, and for many in the business, it is a race against time to adapt and to find new revenues. I am confident it is a challenge that can be met, but provided the industry is free to adapt, unburdened by excessive and punitive legislation including of course the odious Section 40.

“One area of great concern is “fake news” which is central to this area. Fake news has, of course, been with us ever since the printing press was invented – and always will be. What has changed, as the noble Lady the Lady Worthington said, is the impact of social media, where algorithms connect users to news by second-guessing what the user might like, rather than assessing its quality and, as it thrives, it attracts advertising even from reputable brands and Government. Fake news causes real social harm, by reinforcing so-called “filter bubbles” that warp people’s understanding of the world and insulating them from opposing views.

“There is no easy answer to that my Lords but one thing we do need to do is ensure the sustainability of the real, verified, regulated news which appears in UK newsbrands. I like many others warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to establishing a Digital Charter, which will go a long way to dealing with some of these issues.

“I also believe that while “fake news” is an important issue in its own right it is actually part of a much wider problem of the sustainability of the news industry and the structural changes in the advertising market from the establishment of a duopoly of news aggregators.”