Three-D Issue 32: Policy Network report

Jonathan Hardy
University of East London

Here is a brief update on the MeCCSA Policy Network that discusses recent activities, and finishes with two (of many) reasons why we need this Network more than ever. 

The Policy Network is chaired by Phil Ramsay, with Jeanette Steemers and I as vice chairs. Both my colleagues have been very active. Jeanette gave evidence to the Lords Communications Committee in April for their enquiry into public service broadcasting in the age of video on demand. Phil hosted a successful event on the role of journalism in the digital age at Ulster University, involving British and Irish press regulators, journalists and academics. Together, we are inching forwards in overhauling our communications, and encourage you to join our Facebook group, MeCCSA Policy Network. We supported the Media Democracy Festival in March, organised by the Media Reform Coalition (MRC) and Real Media, which attracted over 200 people to a day of discussion on problems, policy solutions and public campaigning in London. Network members contributed, as they will to the forthcoming Byline Festival on 23-26 August, a fantastic festival, full of passion for creating a better media, set to music, dance and fun in East Sussex. Meanwhile, there has been plenty of individual and collective activity, making submissions to policy consultations, including the Cairncross review into journalism, which reported its findings in February, and the Commons Culture Committee enquiry into disinformation and ‘fake’ news. 

The most recent consultation deadline, for many, has been the Government’s Online Harms White Paper, with submissions by Damian Tambini, the Media Reform Coalition, MeCCSA Executive, myself, and others. Professors Sonia Livingstone, who has been an active member and supporter of the Network, and Julia Davidson were part of a group commissioned by DCMS to look at the evidence around online harms experienced by adults. The White Paper’s important, problematic, Conservative-inflected, and highly selective enunciation of problems and solutions has generated diverse reactions across corporate, civil society and academic spheres. Many academic respondents give qualified support for a new regime for online content regulation. Amongst the concerns are that harms are poorly defined and that extending quasi-liability to harmful but not illegal content, in the manner proposed, threatens freedom of expression and plurality.

So, here are two reasons for the Network. We don’t all agree on the fixes, nor should we – we are a network – but we share a commitment to bringing high-quality research to stakeholders to influence outcomes. Second, there is staggering bifurcation in UK communications policy today. For instance, the Culture Committee proposes better labelling and identification of political ads, Cairncross recommends regulatory supervision of platforms, including to help users identify the origins, reliability and trustworthiness of news sources, yet the identification of commercial sources – native advertising, social influencers’ paid promotions, sponsored editorial, and other branded content – remains quarantined in separate policy deliberations and is virtually absent throughout the ‘online harms’ agenda, including its media literacy recommendations. We need the diverse interests and expertise across our Network to explore, debate, and advise others on whether greater policy convergence is required here, in order to fully serve communication users.

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