ONLINE platforms should have a ‘news quality obligation’ to improve trust in news they host, overseen by a regulator, a new report has recommended.

The independent review, undertaken by Dame Frances Cairncross, said the government should explore direct funding for local news and new tax reliefs to support public interest journalism.

It comes as significant changes to technology and consumer behaviour are posing problems for high-quality journalism, both in the UK and globally.

Dame Frances Cairncross said: "The proposals I have put forward have the potential to improve the outlook for high quality journalism. They are designed to encourage new models to emerge, with the help of innovation not just in technology but in business systems and journalistic techniques."

Dame Frances was advised by a panel of experts from the local and national press, digital and physical publishers and advertising. Her recommendations include measures to tackle the uneven balance of power between news publishers and the online platforms that distribute their content, and to address the growing risks to the future provision of public-interest news.

Among her recommendations were that regulator Ofcom should explore the market impact of BBC News and whether it inappropriately steps into areas better served by commercial news providers.

She also said the BBC should do more to help local publishers and think further about how its news provision can act as a complement to commercial news.

And she wanted to see a new, independent Institute created to ensure the future provision of public interest news.

The News Media Association welcomed the report for recognising the 'critical role of written journalism to democracy' and said it set out a series of detailed recommendations, 'many of which respond directly to the proposals put forward by the NMA and our members'.

“These include a Competition and Markets Authority market study into the ‘complex and opaque’ online advertising market, new measures aimed at constraining the behaviour of the online platforms, an examination of the BBC’s impact on commercial publishers, funding support for local news publishers, and tax reliefs such as extending VAT zero rating for online news publications," it said.

Henry Faure Walker, CEO of Newsquest Media Group, said: “We welcome Dame Cairncross’s recommendation that support for public interest reporters, and in particular the great work done by the nascent BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporter scheme, should be expanded.

“Any support must be done in a way that maximises its contribution to local journalism - and this is best done by leveraging the extremely effective and efficient infrastructure already in place in regional publisher newsrooms up and down the country. Diverting funds to setting up an alternative news publishing infrastructure or activities that directly compete with existing local publishers would further undermine the business model for quality local journalism and risks not being sustainable.

“As Dame Cairncross says, there is no other area of journalism so important for the health of local democracy than local news, and finding a way to support local news is now a matter of urgency.

“The focus now moves on to Government who we hope will be bold and ambitious. We look forward to working with them on meaningful and high impact solutions that will support the incredibly important role that local publishers and their public interest journalism fulfils in communities across the length and breadth of the UK.”