UK press slams axing of Facebook News as ‘urgent threat to democracy’

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British newspaper groups have attacked Meta’s decision to scrap the Facebook News service and axe funding for local journalism in a hard-hitting letter warning about the move’s impact on democracy and society.

In a letter sent to Meta global affairs president Nick Clegg, a former British minister, the social media group was warned that its decision posed an “urgent threat to democracy by choking trusted news”. 

The letter, sent by the News Media Association on Thursday and seen by the Financial Times, said the move was both “financially damaging” for newspapers and “deeply concerning for democracy and society”. 

The letter was also sent to government ministers Lucy Frazer, culture secretary, and Michelle Donelan, technology minister. Clegg is a former leader of the Liberal Democrat party and was deputy prime minister in the UK coalition government from 2010 to 2015.

Meta said this month that it would axe Facebook News — the dedicated tab on Facebook that showcases news stories — in Europe and halt a scheme to fund local journalism in the UK. 

The company has said that this was part of an “ongoing effort to better align our investments to our products and services people value the most”.

The News tab makes up less than 3 per cent of what people around the world see in their Facebook feed, it said, “so news discovery is a small part of the Facebook experience for the vast majority of people”. It did not comment further when contacted by the FT.

The letter from the NMA said: “If genuine editorially controlled news is not available on the platforms where users are looking for it, society suffers.” 

Citing the UK general election next year, it said: “These deliberate actions pose an urgent threat to democracy by choking trusted news — both financially for the media industry and practically, for audiences accustomed to trusting your platform for information.”

The NMA represents the interests of the £4bn news media sector. Its members publish more than 900 news media titles including The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, and the Daily Mirror, as well as the Manchester Evening News, the Sheffield Star and the Yorkshire Post. The FT is not a member.

The letter was signed by NMA chair Jim Mullen, who is chief executive of Mirror and Express owner Reach.

The NMA has called for a meeting with Meta to discuss how it can support news publishers and the distribution of reliable news and information.

Meta also decided not to renew its funding for the Community News Project, a scheme that supports journalism in underserved communities. Meta has contributed $17mn to the CNP over the past five years.

The NMA said that when Meta launched the CNP, it acknowledged “the important role Facebook plays in how people get their news”. The letter said: “Even if Meta’s own interest in news has waned, the fact remains that platforms such as Facebook continue to be key discovery routes for news for millions of people and indeed voters.”

Meta has already axed Instant Articles, a mobile-friendly format for news articles on the Facebook app, which was blamed for the sharp fall in digital revenue at publishers such as Reach earlier this year.

The NMA said Meta’s decision to deprioritise authoritative sources of news within its news feed “has further harmed publishers’ ability to attract and monetise traffic”. 

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