DUBAI: British media organizations have condemned a decision by Meta to phase out Facebook News, a dedicated tab in the bookmarks section of Facebook that spotlights news, in some countries. They also slammed the company’s plans to end a scheme through which it funds local journalism in the UK.
Reach, one of the UK’s largest newspaper publishers, and the News Media Association sent Meta’s global affairs president, Nick Clegg, a letter criticizing moves they described as “financially damaging” and “deeply concerning for democracy and society.”
They added: “Particularly as we near a general election, 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.”
In addition to Clegg, a former leader of the Liberal Democrats who served as the UK’s deputy prime minister in his party’s coalition government with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015, the recipients of the letter reportedly included Lucy Frazer, the UK’s culture secretary, and Michelle Donelan, the technology minister.
Meta announced this month that it plans to “deprecate” Facebook News in early December in the UK, France and Germany, as part of an “ongoing effort to better align our investments to our products and services people value the most.”
The company, which has increasingly been shifting its focus to short-form video and other new-tech services, said people do not come to Facebook for news and political content.
“News makes up less than three percent of what people around the world see in their Facebook feed, so news discovery is a small part of the Facebook experience for the vast majority of people,” Meta said.
However, the organizations that sent the letter of protest argued that “platforms such as Facebook continue to be key discovery routes for news for millions of people, and indeed voters, as Ofcom’s News Consumption in the UK 2022/23 report showed earlier this year.”
Reach, which owns national and local newspapers, including the Daily Mirror, Daily Express and Daily Star, previously attributed a financial decline to Facebook.
In its half-year earnings, the publisher revealed a revenue drop of 6.1 percent year-on-year, and overall its titles experienced a 16 percent decline in website page views. The company said at the time that had Facebook not made a change that deprioritized news, it would have expected page views to decline by only 2 percent.
The letter also admonished Meta for its decision to cancel funding for its Community News Project, introduced in 2018, through which Meta pledged £4.5 million ($5.5 million) to help fund 80 new community journalists in the UK.
“We recognize the important role Facebook plays in how people get their news today and we want to do more to support local publishers,” Meta said at the time of launch.
The letter’s signatories reminded the company of its commitment, saying: “If Meta truly believes, as it stated only 18 months ago, that ‘local newspapers are the lifeblood of communities,’ then it is crucial that the company acts to support, rather than undermine, the sustainability of journalism in the UK by continuing these valuable and successful initiatives.”
The News Media Association and Reach called for a meeting with representatives of Meta to discuss how it can support news publishers and the distribution of trustworthy reports and information.