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IMPRESS at the Oxford Media Convention 2022

 

Earlier this week saw the return of the IPPR Oxford Media Convention. This year’s theme was ‘reimaging a citizen-serving media’ with emphasis on the busy UK media policy agenda, media plurality and how to build consensus around a new media fit for the future.

Following a keynote speech from Damian Collins MP, newly appointed Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy, the day’s first panel looked at media policy developments and what they mean for citizens, featuring IMPRESS Head of Regulation Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana. Chaired by Reset UK Director Poppy Wood, Lexie was joined by Google’s Public Policy Manager, Tom Morrison Bell, and Director of the Reuters Institute, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen.

L to R: Poppy Wood, Tom Morrison-Bell, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen & Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana

 

Here’s 4 key takeaways from their discussion:

 
  1. This is a critical moment for media policy in the UK.

In their opening remarks, the panel members each agreed that this was a seminal moment for media policy and law in the UK, in the context of the Online Safety Bill, the yet to be tabled Media Bill, the Broadcasting White Paper, the MOJ’s SLAPPs inquiry, as well as the CMA’s work around the new Digital Markets Unit.

Nielsen shared his view that though “we have many privileges in the UK, this is a fraught moment for media policy, in terms of the enforcement of reasonable grounds to infer illegality and incentivisation of the over-removal of legal speech on platforms.”

Kirkconnell-Kawana expressed concern about the co-dependency between the press and politics and how this influences policy, suggesting “there’s been a critical legacy left behind by a policy agenda that expedites commercial interests rather than enshrining rights to freedom of expression and upholding integrity and high-quality journalism to service the needs of citizens and democracy.”

  1. There’s an emergent media space developing, and it needs support.

Kirkconnell-Kawana shared her optimism regarding the emergent media space provided by alternative journalism and new forms of content publishing, serving communities, largely ignored by existing media, with the aid of new tools and digital solutions.

From TikTok journos to journalism influencers, these new providers might not look like traditional newsrooms, but at their heart these new providers fulfil the purposes of journalism, are focused on improving the quality of their product, and want to professionalise. “The institutional model of journalism that we use to define and decide public policy will mark the death knell of innovation for journalism and what’s best serving communities,” Kirkconnell-Kawana went on to say.

“I would like policy brokers in the space to be giving this new, quality, accountable journalism product the support it deserves.”

  1. The Online Safety Bill could mean harmful content is available for longer.

While Bell gave credit to the Online Safety bill for recognising and respecting the distinction between search and social platforms, he raised concerns with the right of appeal for news publishers outlined under the Bill’s journalism exemption.

He highlighted that this appeal right means that instead of potentially harmful content being immediately removed from platforms, instead it will remain published for longer and will have longer to surface as a result of the time it takes to process any appeal. Tom argued this was “at odds with the bill’s core purpose of limiting online harms” and could put the public at unnecessary risk. 

  1. Standards and the provision of quality information have been forgotten by the Online Safety Bill.

The panellists agreed that an opportunity had been missed to ensure that standards and a consideration for the quality of information being published online was baked into the Online Safety Bill.

Nielsen expressed regret that there has been little engagement with the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry and the Cairncross Review with regards to supporting and ensuring the provision of high-quality information sources across the UK. He argued that we have a broad consensus of what ‘bad’ journalism looks like but that we must acknowledge that people’s information needs differ greatly, and that the question of how we get quality information in front of people has been forgotten by policymakers.

For Kirkconnell-Kawana, concerns lie with the journalism exemption criteria: “The bill doesn’t touch the sides on standards and just asks for the bare minimum [of news publishers] of having a standards code, whatever that might look like. It’s on the public to demand better information and at the policy level it’s about putting pressure on platforms to define what information will surface, to ask if better quality content will be given more prominence.”

From the tech platform perspective, Bell claimed Google does a good job at providing people with what they search for, pointing out that 50% of Google searches made each day are entirely new and the algorithm is forever updating to keep up with user needs. He admitted a wider conversation about Google’s relationship to news, and how the search engine delivers that information, was probably needed and that Google should do a better job in ranking information based on quality indicators, like standards.


With developing political circumstances affecting policy progression, the final form of most media policy currently on the agenda remains to be seen. However, irrespective of background and expertise area, all panellists were in agreement that more can and should be done to ensure media policy better protects citizens and supports the provision of quality, trusted sources of information in the digital age.

More information about the 2022 Oxford Media Convention can be found here: https://oxfordmediaconvention.com/

You can now watch videos of all the day's sessions here: https://www.ippr.org/event/oxford-media-convention-2022