Jon Snow calls on media to reconnect with 'left behind' public and urges Facebook, Google to fund their efforts

Jon Show delivers emotive call to media to prevent the digital media barons from devouring local and national sources of informa

Jon Snow has delivered an emotive call to the media to prevent so-called "digital media barons" Facebook and Google from devouring local and national sources of information, at a time when public service broadcast journalism has "never been more vital", and yet so disconnected.

Speaking as the keynote MacTaggart lecturer at the Edinburgh International TV Festival, Snow spoke at length about both his failure – and the wider media's – in connecting with and understanding those who are not part of the elite that makes up most of the media industry.

This, he said, was most harrowingly evidenced in the Grenfell Tower disaster of 14 June, which highlighted the "disconnect" of the "elite" media with the underserved public; the "left behind".

Snow revealed a personal connection to the Grenfell Tower disaster. In April this year he judged a school's debating competition in London, organised by Debate Mate, in which he and Bill Gates named 12-year-old Firdows Kedir as winner of the competition. Two months later, Firdows and her father were two of the at least 80 people who died in the fire at Grenfell.

A blog published eight months before the disaster outlining the dangers of the building rubbed salt in the wounds of the survivors, as well as the journalists who found themselves filling the airwaves with "political flatulence" around Brexit and Trump, rather than devoted to subjects "nearer the hearts of those who watch".

"In that moment I felt both disconnected and frustrated. I felt on the wrong side of the terrible divide that exists in present day society and in which we are all in this hall, major players," Snow said.

"The completely man-made Grenfell disaster has proved beyond all other domestic events, how little we know, and how dangerous the disconnect is," he added.

What's more, despite the Googles, Facebooks and Twitters of the world promising greater connectivity across borders, Snow argued that this has "so far failed to combat modern society’s widening disconnection".

"The explosion of digital media has filled neither the void left by the decimation of the local newspaper industry – nor connected us any more effectively with ‘the left behind’, the disadvantaged, the excluded. Never have we been more accessible to the public nor in some ways more disconnected from the lives of others," he said.

He issued a rallying call to the industry to "bind together" in the "pursuit of truth", as he called out Facebook's various failures in supporting quality journalism.

"Many news organisations including my own, have asked too few questions about the apparent miracle of Facebook’s reach.

"That same algorithm that prioritised many amazing reports of ours also prioritised fakery on a massive scale. Facebook has a moral duty to prioritise veracity over virality. It is fundamental to our democracy. Facebook’s lack of activity in this regard could prove a vast threat to democracy. Facebook’s principles are seldom explained in detail and can change over-night at Mr Zuckerberg’s whim.

"While the reach of Facebook video exceeds that of conventional broadcasting, the revenue provided doesn’t even come close. And Facebook themselves have provided publishers with the most nominal of sums and certainly not the rate for the job."

Snow called on Facebook and Google to "pay more taxes" and said that if they do not do this voluntarily then legislation should be introduced to force them to do so: "Facebook feasts on our products and pays all but nothing for them. This cannot last.

"Governments, the EU and others have to play an even bigger part in forcing them to pay. I’m a fan of Facebook, but I’m not a fan of playing fast and loose with the products that we in this room generate at great expense."

Snow said that if Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is truly committed to serious journalism, then he will need to put his money where his mouth is.

"Indeed when you read Zuckerberg's manifesto for the future he seems to think Facebook will invent and establish quality journalism. There is no need to Mr Zuckerberg. It already exists, independent of Facebook.

"In fact the duopoly of Facebook and Google has decimated the market in digital revenue that many hoped would sustain quality journalism for years to come. Now we all need to work together and find another way of supporting it – before it’s too late."

Jessica Goodfellow

The Drum's media reporter covering everything from publishing, TV, social media, radio and technology.

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