Facebook needs to pay more for the news content that it uses to generate vast amounts of wealth, veteran newsreader Jon Snow demanded today in his keynote speech at the Edinburgh Television Festival.
He used the flagship MacTaggart Lecture to call on the US giant to face up to its “moral responsibility” to the world in the age of fake news and declining reveues for TV news organisations.
“Facebook feasts on our products and pays all but nothing for them,” he said. “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.”
He added that many news organisations “including my own” have “asked too few questions about the apparent miracle of Facebook’s reach” and the way it has “enabled” the dissemination of fake news.
He said: “For us at Channel 4 News it has been invaluable in helping us to deliver our remit – to reach young viewers, to innovate, and to get attention for some of the world’s most important stories. But the other side of the issue – the dark, cancerous side – Facebook enabled the story: ‘Pope endorses Trump for President’ to engage more than a million people during the US Elections.
“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.”
Snow suggested that the company needed to do more to fund responsible journalism, telling delegates: “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.
“Rather than simply trying to take down the fakery, there has to be an incentive for Facebook to pay the rate for high quality news and encourage the development of a global bedrock of truths rooted in their offer to the quarter of the world’s online audience. 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.”
As the MacTaggart speaker, Snow, who has been the face of Channel 4 News since 1989, is the latest in a long line of leading figures given a platform to pronounce on the ills and opportunities of the TV world. Recent figures have included Armando Iannucci and Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham.
He has been a front-line reporter for ITN since 1976, covering many of the defining news events of the last 40 years including the ousting of Idi Amin in Uganda, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, the fall of the Berlin wall, and the release of Nelson Mandela – as well as the elections of Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Barack Obama and most recently, Donald Trump.
The Festival runs until Friday 25th August and will feature appearances from a host of TV names including Charlie Brooker, Russell Brand, Line of Duty writer Jed Mercurio and its star Vicky McClure alongside leading channel executives.