Noel Sheppard: Journalists And Others Are ‘Helpless’ Without Reporting Outlets Or Networks on Which To Lean



Journalists have long complained that Facebook is too biased against their content. That is why 15 of the nation’s leading investigative and investigative-style journalists — including the director of ProPublica, Pulitzer Prize winners, and the founder of BuzzFeed News, are suing the social media platform.

Noel Sheppard of the Reuters Institute For The Study Of Journalism at the University of Oxford explained to Congress on Wednesday that journalists and others are “helpless” without reporting outlets or networks on which to lean.

“Digital media companies are largely now beholden to shareholders rather than to audiences,” Sheppard told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. “The New York Times, the New Yorker, BuzzFeed, and NPR are not public companies. They’re owned by private investors with different interests and agendas.”

I agree with Sheppard. In case you didn’t know, Facebook is worth $464 billion and the New York Times is worth more than $5 billion. Those values were determined by something called the stock market. There’s no way the New York Times would ever go belly up or go under, so where do we get the $458 billion to $5 billion from?

Dan Gainor, the executive vice president of the Media Research Center, also testified before the committee Wednesday. He told politicians that Facebook and Google are two companies that profit from the American people by driving traffic to websites in the hope of sharing their advertising revenue.

“These companies are protected from government regulation under the First Amendment of the Constitution, and all 50 states,” Gainor said. “That’s why I and many other professional journalists have formed a coalition to advocate for a media reform agenda under the banner of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Our organization represents a wide swath of political spectrum, including many on the political right, including Sarah Palin, Steve Bannon, Chuck Norris, Rand Paul, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Pat Buchanan.”

Evelyn Rusli, the council chair of the Press Club of Philadelphia, agreed with Gainor and the other reporters who testified.

“If you look at a ‘free’ press in that regard — a truly free press — you’ll find we’re a minute-and-a-half short of 30 journalists who have been killed since 1998 — not to mention the hundreds of journalists who have been kidnapped, or who have disappeared,” Rusli said. “One of the ways we can try to remedy that is for those entities that control the content to begin paying a stake in the operations of news organizations so they can’t make decisions without we actually know why.”

Sheppard said he thinks Facebook is doing a “pretty good job of exercising restraint,” and on a day such as today, Facebook’s head of policy-setting, Adam Mosseri, is willing to answer questions from politicians about his company’s policies.

Adam Mosseri, the head of the content team at Facebook, thinks the social media giant is working to clean up the content on its platform. He also provided the closest glimpse at how Facebook’s policies operate when he was questioned by Congress in 2017.

“In 2016, Facebook restricted 1.6 million ads, or 10 percent of all ads, because we determined they violated our policies,” he said. “Most of these ads came from these six countries.”

He added that the year prior, they had disqualified 90 percent of ad content from three countries: Iran, Sudan, and Venezuela.

Facebook’s ad curbs have been limited by the company’s policies so as not to censor controversial speech — while also making sure they don’t spread misinformation. It’s a fine balancing act that they’re having some trouble getting right at the moment.

Adam Mosseri, the Facebook executive who led their efforts to monitor and restrict political advertising, testifies to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday. (Screenshot)

Noel Sheppard is the director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, and a reporter.

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