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SoE conference: Culture Secretary calls for ‘greater diversity’ in newsrooms as he admits to not paying for UK news

Culture secretary

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright revealed he does not pay for any British newspapers or magazines as he made his first address to the news industry today.

Wright was grilled by BBC media editor Amol Rajan, who chaired a Q&A with the Tory MP at the Society of Editor’s conference in Manchester. In a quick-fire round of questions, the former lawyer said the only subscription he held was with Time magazine.

“I didn’t read any newspaper this morning,” he also told the conference in Manchester. But he said he woke up with BBC Radio 4 and mainly watched both the BBC and Sky News bulletins.

He added that he receives a summary of the news every morning.

Wright said it was “important to respect what the court has decided” when asked what he thought of Lord Peter Hain’s decision to name retail tycoon Sir Philip Green as the man behind an injunction against the Daily Telegraph.

Lord Hain used parliamentary privilege to name Green after the High Court upheld the injunction pending a full hearing next year.

Green faces allegations from staff of sexual harassment and racial abuse. The Topshop and Topman boss has said he “categorically and wholly” denies the allegations.

Wright said: “It’s a matter for [Lord] Peter Hain what he chose to do, but what I would say, as a former Attorney General, is that it’s important to respect what the court has decided.”

He added: “If that’s what a court has decided, that should hold… I don’t think it’s sensible of us to push the boundaries of parliamentary privilege too far.”

Wright said he hadn’t put restrictions on Dame Francis Cairncross, who is leading a review into the sustainability of high-quality journalism that is expected to deliver its report early next year.

“I will look at what she says and try to find a way forward,” he said, although he would not speculate as to the review’s findings.

Wright said the review was looking at the “competition aspects” of Facebook and Google – known collectively as the Duopoly – as well as payment for content and “online harms”.

In speech before taking questions, he said: “I am confident that the review will show there are ways for quality journalism to go from strength to strength in the digital era.

“It is undeniable that the digital revolution has led to a world in which the value of quality content is not sufficiently rewarded.

“This means an understandable but harmful trend towards cheaper to produce content, which endangers the investigative journalism that needs time and resources to do well.

“There is an urgent need to turn this around. On the one hand, I firmly believe that technology is a force for good and that social media platforms have brought great opportunities.

“But many of these platforms are powered by the sharing of news, and it is vital that the producers of this news are recognised and rewarded. I have urged Dame Frances to look carefully at this point.

“Of course, whilst I believe the Cairncross Review will be an important step in setting out a new future for our quality press, it will not be a silver bullet. Nor will it produce one single model for every publisher to follow.

“And so it is important that we all look at what is within our gift to change, as we strive to strengthen our free press and democratic engagement.”

Wright said British investigative journalism “is the best in the world” and “holds our institutions to account and makes our country, and public life, a much better place”.

He said it was “the kind of journalism that can and must be part of the antidote to so called ‘fake news’”.

He added later: “I think we need to help the public to rediscover the difference between those things we see online that aren’t true and those things that are properly researched, authoritative journalism.”

Wright also called for “greater ethnic and social diversity” in newsrooms and a “drawing on the talents of more of the country’s geography”.

He praised the UK press as having “a level of trust and freedom that is rightly envied and respected across the world”.

But, he said: “A free and trusted press must also be a sustainable press. 

“A benefit of the digital revolution is that so many people from around the world can now see your content.

“But I recognise there is a real problem in converting that interest into revenue.

“And the strength and sustainability of our press is something that should concern us all. Especially when we look at this in a global context.

“Across the world, we are seeing journalists under threat and state sponsored disinformation drowning out the free and open press.

“And the risks of a diminished press are very real. A less informed public, a democratic deficit and less of a spotlight on vital public institutions. Institutions like the courts.”

Wright said later: “It is clear that the days of print sales and print advertising meeting the costs of quality journalism are largely behind us.”

He added: “A press that gives people not just what they want to read but what they ought to read, makes our society is stronger.

“And helping you to deliver that is one of my big priorities in my new role as Secretary of State.”

Read Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright’s full speech at the Society of Editor’s conference 2018.

Picture: Society of Editors

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