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Tech giants should face same sanctions as broadcasters over fake news, says ITN

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A major British production company has advised the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee to hold internet companies to the same standards on fake news as broadcasters, including sanctions for breaking rules.

The Communications and Digital Committee is carrying out an inquiry into the future of journalism, which will look at issues such as the impact of search engines on news, digital advertising, the proliferation of fake news, and how news circulates on social media platforms.

In a submission to the inquiry, ITN – which produces news programming for ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5 – has suggested that internet giants which breach existing rules on fake news should face the same sanctions that broadcasters would.

The submission welcomes the inquiry and calls for a “mandatory code to safeguard regulated and impartial news”, with far stricter measures that require internet companies – particularly social media companies – to remove misinformation and disinformation.

“Having clear and strong sanctions for internet companies that breach the rules is paramount,” the submission advises. “These sanctions should mirror those which apply to broadcasters, which face losing their licence to broadcast if Ofcom finds them to be in consistent breach of the Broadcasting Code.”

ITN warns that social media companies currently reap no more value by providing high-quality news than by providing fake news: “Indeed, fake news which 'goes viral' may be of more value to the social platforms, with the platform advertising model rewarding sensationalism and fake news far more than it does thorough, accurate, and impartial journalism.”

ITN also suggests that the government could introduce a mandatory code of conduct after a set period of time, should media companies and digital platforms fail to reach agreement on a voluntary code. This code could include agreements on revenue sharing between digital platforms like Google and Facebook and the news outlets which they benefit by linking to.

ITN CEO Anna Mallett commented: “As we face a global pandemic, this review could not be more urgent. All our news programmes are seeing sharp increases in viewing figures as people seek out reliable, trustworthy information.

“That audiences are turning to the established, professional sources of journalism at times of crisis serves to underline their enormous value to society and underscores a need for action to protect the [public service broadcasters] and quality journalism in the future.”

There is a patchwork of regulation around the world regarding the spread of misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms, with governments struggling to strike the right balance between forcing social media platforms to take responsibility for removing harmful content without inadvertently inciting censorship. For instance, Germany’s 2017 law requiring social media platforms to remove offensive or illegal content within 24 hours has been criticised as flawed for leading to the over-zealous removal of content shared on social media.

The UK government laid out its plans in a 2019 White Paper for putting an end to the self-regulation of social media companies, including holding them accountable for sharing harmful fake news. The government will give Ofcom expanded powers to enforce a legal 'duty of care' towards social media users.

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