Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

London — The UK should tackle the power of Alphabet’s Google and Facebook over Britain’s news publishers and push the tech platforms to promote quality journalism, according to a report commissioned by the UK government to find remedies for the struggling local press.

The Cairncross Review calls for codes of conduct to govern commercial relationships between the Silicon Valley giants and news publishers that would be overseen by a regulator with enforcement powers, according to its findings published late on Monday.

“While each platform should devise solutions that best fit the needs of their particular users, their efforts should be placed under regulatory scrutiny — this task is too important to leave entirely to the judgment of commercial entities,” said the authors of the review led by Frances Cairncross, an economist and former journalist.

The report comes as the UK government considers how to sustain high-quality journalism as print circulations plunge and even new digital news outlets, such as BuzzFeed, make harsh retrenchments.

The tech giants have become a vital gateway to readers of local journalism and are under pressure to share more of their ad income. A proposed copyright law devised by European regulators would give publishers the right to demand more money from the web platforms.

Google has said it might withdraw its news service from the continent as a result.

Cairncross focuses on themes that include the role and impact of search engines, social media platforms and digital advertising. Under its proposals, Facebook and Google could commit to not imposing their own advertising software. According to its website, Facebook Instant Articles lets publishers sell ads directly as well as through the company’s software.

The review said the UK Competition and Markets Authority should investigate the online advertising market, which is dominated by Google, Facebook and Amazon, and where intermediaries and profit margins are less transparent than those in print.

Britain’s opposition Labour Party said the recommendations don’t go far enough.

Tom Watson, deputy leader of Labour and shadow culture secretary, said in an e-mailed statement, “As long as tech giants continue to completely dominate the market it’s difficult to see how a sustainable financial footing for journalism can be achieved.” 

With Robert Hutton