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Select Committee Inquiry into “Fake News”: Submissions invited (but perhaps not in relation to newspapers)

imagevaulthandler-aspxOn 30 January 2017, the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport launched an inquiry into the phenomenon of “fake news” and invited submissions from members of the public.  The deadline for submissions is 3 March 2017.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee is looking at ways to respond to the phenomenon of fake news, focusing in particular on the following questions:

  • What is ‘fake news’? Where does biased but legitimate commentary shade into propaganda and lies?
  • What impact has fake news on public understanding of the world, and also on the public response to traditional journalism? If all views are equally valid, does objectivity and balance lose all value?
  • Is there any difference in the way people of different ages, social backgrounds, genders etc use and respond to fake news?
  • Have changes in the selling and placing of advertising encouraged the growth of fake news, for example by making it profitable to use fake news to attract more hits to websites, and thus more income from advertisers?
  • What responsibilities do search engines and social media platforms have, particularly those which are accessible to young people?  Is it viable to use computer-generated algorithms to root out ‘fake news’ from genuine reporting?
  • How can we educate people in how to assess and use different sources of news?
  • Are there differences between the UK and other countries in the degree to which people accept ‘fake news’, given our tradition of public service broadcasting and newspaper readership?
  • How have other governments responded to fake news?

Views can be submitted through an online submission form.

Buzzfeed has reported that campaigners against bad British tabloid journalism are urging people to flood the inquiry with concerns about inaccurate reporting in mainstream newspapers.  The Chair of the Committee, Damian Collins MP has said that the Committee will not be considering such concerns

“They should send all those to IPSO, that is the body that’s been set up by the newspaper industry,” said Collins. “They should direct their complaints about accuracy in news reporting to them.  The issue at the moment is if you’ve got concerns about accuracy there is no one to complain to about a fake online story. We’re going to be responding separately to the government on press regulation – as a committee we’ve done quite a lot on press standards in the past, that is an important issue to be addressed separately.”

There are a number of issues in relation to this suggestion by Mr Collins:

  • IPSO is not an independent or effective regulator for the press – it has, in fact, never carried any regulatory investigation of any kind
  • The terms of reference of the Inquiry do not suggest that it does not cover fake news published by members of IPSO.
  • False newspaper stories will usually have a much wider circulation that those published on obscure websites and are, therefore, potentially much more damaging.  The most widely read online newspaper site, MailOnline, has sought to argue that its “US stories” are not subject to IPSO in any event.

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