Media minister not ruling out levy on tech giants to fund responsible journalism

Media minister Jeremy Wright has said he will not rule out a levy on tech giants to fund responsible journalism.

The secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport has said it would be “unwise” to limit his options when considering how to raise a war chest in the battle against fake news.

Wright enjoined networks to help combat disinformation in online media in a speech to the Royal Television Society, with a particular rallying cry to public service broadcasters (PSBs).

Issues of false narratives on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube were raised by the minister, who said that quality journalism was the best defence against dubious reporting.

He has said he would not rule out taxing the tech giants in a system to redistribute media money and fund journalism in the public interest.

The comments came as BBC director general Lord Tony Hall warned that the “cracks were beginning to show” due to licence fee cuts, and as ITV boss Carolyn McCall admitted the network had to be “financially disciplined”.

When asked if there could be a levy as an alternative to the licence fee and as a funding bulwark against fake news, Wright said: “It would be unwise of me to rule anything out completely.

“We have got to make an effort to support good quality journalism. We need to guarantee the best possible PSBs.

“I will look at all the arguments. There is scope to look at the other businesses in this sector.”

The call for quality journalism came as Wright pointed out that RT was subject to 10 separate Ofcom investigations into its due impartiality and raised concerns about the impact of “deep fakes” – false news stories that appear extremely realistic.

He said: “High-quality journalism is the best possible weapon in our battle against disinformation. A strong media means a strong democracy and a strong nation. And we cannot be complacent.”

The minister will be considering means of ensuring such journalism is funded.

Wright said that the deliberation on the form online regulation may take could also take time.

He said: “I apologise if it takes longer than people want, but I want to get it right.”

Wright said the Government will have to make clear what needs to be regulated and how, before he can comment on the timescale for regulation to be rolled out.

The head of Ofcom, Sharon White, spoke at the conference, saying that online media was subject to a “lottery of standards”.

She would not be drawn on whether Ofcom could regulate the online space in the UK.

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