Parliament 'fake news' inquiry must be properly targeted, says PRCA

The PRCA has welcomed the announcement that MPs will investigate the phenomenon of fake news, but says it must ensure the inquiry is a "proper, rigorous exercise".

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee today announced it would be looking into "ways to respond to the phenomenon of fake news". This will include establishing a definition of fake news and considering the line between "legitimate commentary" and "propaganda and lies".

Written evidence is now being accepted, and oral evidence hearings will then be scheduled, based in part on the written submissions.

One question posed by the inquiry is: "Have changes in the selling and placing of advertising encouraged the growth of fake news, for example by making it profitable to use fake news to attract more hits to websites, and thus more income from advertisers?"

It also asks how the Government can educate people on how to assess and use different news sources, and what differences there are in the degree to which people in the UK are duped by fake news, versus consumers in other countries. Differences in how people of different ages and social groups consume news will also be considered.

Nicholas Dunn-McAfee, head of public affairs, policy and research at the PRCA, said the trade body welcomed the inquiry in principle, so long as it was "a proper, rigorous exercise rather than an attempt to exorcise the unknown". "For PR and communications to function and be valuable, we have to be able to trust the news outlets and news formats," he said.

Dunn-McAfee also said the inquiry needed to understand that tackling the perceived negative influence of fake news was a job for both consumers and corporations.

"Ultimately, it has to be framed by the fact 'fake news' stories are not homogenous and that social media platforms’ own editorial policies have had, and will continue to have, clear implications," he said.

The committee's chair, the Conservative MP Damian Collins, said: "Just as major tech companies have accepted they have a social responsibility to combat piracy online and the illegal sharing of content, they also need to help address the spreading of fake news on social media platforms.

"Consumers should also be given new tools to help them assess the origin and likely veracity of news stories they read online. The Committee will be investigating these issues, as well as looking into the sources of fake news, what motivates people to spread it, and how it has been used around elections and other important political debates."

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