Call for Evidence
A healthy news ecosystem is vital to our democratic society. Changes are underway which will have major consequences for the future of the UK’s news media.
The House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee will examine a selection of strategic challenges facing the sector, focusing on impartiality, trust and the impact of tech platforms. Some of these issues are longstanding, while others are new. Some are driven by external factors, others are internal to news organisations themselves. In combination they pose a formidable challenge to the UK news sector and raise questions about the viability of maintaining a trusted information environment underpinned by a healthy and financially sustainable news system.
Our inquiry will explore immediate and long-term actions needed from industry, regulators and Government to respond. It builds on the Committee’s recent inquiries on the future of journalism, BBC funding, and large language models.
Concerns have been growing over the challenges around due impartiality. Audiences continue to say that impartiality is key, but have very different views on what this means in practice. Public service broadcasters, notably the BBC, are under particular pressure to serve all audiences and demonstrate their relevance in an increasingly complex and fragmented media environment.
Current trends suggest this task is becoming ever more complex. Political realignments among the public and societal divides pose ongoing challenges to serving audiences from all walks of life. Opinionated online content is growing in popularity. Furthermore, the increasing availability of news online has also been associated with ‘bias by omission’, where audiences are exposed to a wider variety of events and interpretations which have not been covered by a particular news organisation. Coverage of the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine provide recent examples.
Trust in news remains in long-term decline, falling from 51 per cent in 2015 to 33 per cent in 2023. People are accessing news less frequently and are becoming less interested. The UK faces a general election amid fears about AI-enabled mis- and dis-information, alongside concern that over-emphasising such issues can be unhelpful and problematic. Over 2 billion people from 50 countries are going to the polls in 2024, making it the largest global election year in history.
Technology platforms and business models
Recent advances in large language models have led some media organisations to voice unease about their industry’s long-term financial sustainability. Some large US technology platforms are also moving away from external news content, with significant financial implications for media organisations who have relied on them for audience engagement and revenue. Online news intermediaries continue to play a key role in curating and recommending the type of news that people see; Ofcom has already raised questions about the impacts on media plurality. Such influence may grow as generative AI tools become more widespread.
Our inquiry will examine the implications of the issues summarised above, and explore the extent to which responses must come from industry, Government or regulators. We aim to identify tangible actions that can be taken (a) over the next 12 months to address immediate issues, and (b) over the next five years to address long-term concerns.
Trends over the next 12 months and 5 years
1. What impacts (positive and negative) do large technology platforms and online news aggregators have on the UK’s news environment, including media plurality? And how might this change?
2. How is generative AI affecting news media business models and how might this evolve?
3. How are perceptions of due impartiality evolving and what challenges do news organisations face around impartial reporting?
4. What factors affect trust in news and how might this evolve?
a)To what extent is trust linked to perceptions of impartiality, or to other trends in online news?
b)What impact do concerns around disinformation have on trust in the information environment? (And to what extent does this differ between difference sections of society?)
1. How well are news organisations responding to factors affecting their business models, and are any changes needed?
2. How adequately are UK news organisations providing impartial and trusted news? What actions are needed to address any shortcomings?
a)How should news organisations balance competing demands to provide content that aligns with particular values on the one hand, and provides trusted and impartial news on the other?
3. How adequately are news media organisations ensuring that efforts to provide trusted information and tackle disinformation do not alienate some sections of society in the process?
4. How well is regulatory oversight working? Are any changes needed, for example:
a) In the way Ofcom oversees due impartiality and the extent of its remit?
b) In the way Ofcom oversees media plurality?
5. Are there any actions the Government should take to address concerns around due impartiality, trust, and the influence of technology platforms?
a) Are changes needed to the Media Bill?
b) Are changes needed to the way the Government addresses mis- and dis-information?
The Committee invites written contributions by Monday 12 February 2024.
This is a public call for evidence. Please bring it to the attention of other groups and individuals who may not have received a copy directly.
Detailed guidance on giving written evidence to a Lords select committees is available here: https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/committees/how-do-i-submit-evidence/lords-witness-guide/
This call for written evidence has now closed.Go back to The future of news: impartiality, trust and technology Inquiry