Guardian Media Group chief executive Andrew Miller has called on internet giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to face up to editorial responsibilities and challenged the BBC to open up its taxpayer-funded content to commercial news organisations.
Delivering the annual Polis lecture, Miller outlined the changing nature of the journalism industry and its commercial models, and said it was time for new media internet companies to define the role they play in the digital landscape and accept they have the same responsibilities as traditional media organisations.
“As the volume of our traffic increasingly comes from social sharing, we enjoy working with the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter,” he said. “But I absolutely have concerns about their size and the influence they wield.
“These digital distributors cannot escape their editorial responsibilities. Editing on these platforms will become more and more essential in order to avoid dangerous, inflammatory material from being treated as legitimate information.
“It’s happening now. Twitter trolling and the rise of the bullies. Facebook making changes to its gender selection option. Buzzfeed having to apologise for plagiarism.
“Whether you’re a legacy franchise, a philanthropic digital or, to put it bluntly, a start-up that’s for sale, every media company is having to wake up to the harsh realities that face them. Newspapers have spent the last 100 years honing these essential skills and experience, and they cost money.”
He went on: “More than that, are these companies being somewhat disingenuous? On the one hand, they want to be open and agnostic platforms for the distribution of content, with the cost of infrastructure being digital. On the other hand, they make the majority of their revenues from media-related advertising.
“I think they need to be more candid about what they want to be. Platforms without responsibility? Or media companies with the organisational framework in place to make big editorial decisions? If they are media companies then by necessity they can accept the revenues that brings. But they also need to accept the responsibility created by the necessary regulation that entails.”
Miller went on to address the issue of the BBC, which he said had caused “commercial news brands of all shapes and sizes” to express concern about the corporation’s expanding digital role. After outlining the challenging financial climate commercial news organisations are operating under in the UK, Miller suggested the BBC open up its content.
“What if UK commercial content providers, such as the Guardian, Mail Online, the Telegraph or the Times, were able to access the raw news feeds coming in from court cases, Royal weddings, key select committee hearing and other global breaking news events?
“The BBC should also think about how content providers can tap into its unrivalled back catalogue, to create new content that the BBC doesn’t have the time, inclination or expertise to create. It’s this new ‘digital public space’ for publicly-owned content that has often been a fiction. A new ‘digital public space’ that I hope the director-general will now turn into a fact.
“And it wouldn’t sit on a third party website. It would be available to all UK commercial providers to use on their own websites, to enrich their content and to benefit their readers.
“Where there’s a clear commercial value,” he went on, “expecially in territories in which we compete with the BBC for advertising revenues, that content would come at a cost, along the same lines as the agreement the BBC currently has with its own commercial news service.
“Where there’s no commercial value, it should be made freely available for national, local and hyper-local organisation to explore.”
Last month, the Guardian announced the launch of a membership scheme, which Miller described as a “radical rethinking” of the role news organisations play.