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TUC Congress 2020 We need a media fit for the future

Boosting trust in journalism is more important than ever in the era of ‘fake news,’ says NUJ leader MICHELLE STANISTREET

NEVER has there been a more important time for trustworthy news than during this global pandemic. 

People needed information on dealing with the deadly virus and to keep on top of the various (and often conflicting) advice and edicts from government and its scientists. 

It has been journalists who have shone a light on what Covid-19 has revealed — many people living in a precarious economy where their livelihoods disappeared overnight and austerity-hit public services were left unable to pick up the pieces. 

The media has reported on how we are not all in it together; with the poor, self-employed and BAME people being disproportionately affected. 

Like other industries, the media is having a tough time, largely caused by the underlying health issues the virus has exposed and amplified. 

At the NUJ, we are engaged in redundancy consultations with over 4,000 jobs at risk, across all sectors of the industry. 

Predominantly, those cuts and redundancies are targeted at grassroots journalism roles. 

We are dealing with a BBC under attack from Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings, who would like to see it emasculated and hobbled. 

This is the same BBC which worked around the clock, providing local and national news coverage, current affairs and investigations as well as creating unrivalled content and programming to support families home-schooling during this unprecedented period. 

This is why the NUJ launched its News Recovery Plan in April, setting out a bold set of interventions to support and protect jobs and quality journalism and reboot a future media — one that is fit for purpose, bolder and much more rooted in the public good. 

Key to the plan is forcing the tech giants, which have helped themselves to newspapers’ content while sucking up virtually all the digital advertising, to pay their way. 

We are saying “enough is enough.” The union is calling for a digital service tax, or a digital information levy, to fund the measures set out in the plan, with a one-off windfall charge followed by an annual levy based on company profits. 

They can well afford it. While most other companies have been feeling the pain of this crisis, they have been coining it with Facebook posting a double-figure revenue growth over the summer. 

It will be a fight. Australia has introduced a code of conduct that aims to make Google and Facebook pay news outlets for content, threatening them with fines if they don’t. 

Facebook has retaliated, saying it will pull all news from its platform there. 

These tech giant heads did not become trillionaires by paying for news content or taxes when they can get away with it. 

That’s why we need a united stand against them, their greed and exploitation. 

These platforms also try to avoid any responsibility for the crazy conspiracy theories and downright untruths people peddle on their sites and messaging services. 

That’s why our plan calls for a wide-scale media literacy campaign to tackle disinformation and fake news which pollute democratic discourse. 

Have you heard there are plans afoot to create new Fox-style news outlets, based on Donald Trump’s favourite TV station? Because there just aren’t enough right-wing media pundits and publications in Britain. Right? 

That is why we are also calling for greater plurality in the media and tighter ownership regulation. 

To do this, we have proposed a government-funded, arm’s-length Journalism Foundation to invest in local news and innovative journalistic projects and to promote new media start-ups.  

And we are proposing free vouchers for online or print subscriptions for all 18 and 19-year-olds and tax credits to all households with subscriptions to reputable news outlets. 

We need to boost trust in journalism and create the environment in which quality ethical reporting is strongly rooted in line with the NUJ’s Code of Conduct. 

All citizens should have access to easily understood reporting of important decisions taken on our behalf — about defence, health, education and social care services, as well as the administration of justice, provision of transport, and economic planning. 

The year-on-year cuts that have plagued newsrooms, particularly local journalism, has meant we aren’t always getting this information. 

The NUJ is fighting for local news and we hope comrades can support our members at the Bullivant weekly newspapers in the Midlands who have been taking strike action to stave off poor pay and compulsory redundancies. 

That is why we are asking the TUC to support our plan for a media fit for the future. 

Michelle Stanistreet is general secretary of the NUJ.

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