Report by Sian Bayley, Trainee Reporter, Evening Standard
People who use the web should be paid a “data dividend” by big tech companies, according to former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, now editor of the Evening Standard.
Osborne launched what he described as his “big idea for the future” at the 20th annual Hugh Cudlipp lecture, hosted by the London Press Club at Regent’s University. You can read his speech here.
The “data dividend” would enable people to own their data and encourage competition between big tech companies who have profited from it.
“It seems strange that you should be paid for watching all those funny videos and wasting hours on those games. But people do pay to know what you’ve been doing with your time – they just don’t pay you,” he said.
“Those platforms know who we are, where we live, who are friends are, what we watch and how long for, what we buy and what we search for. It’s very valuable information. Indeed, the world’s most expensive companies have been created on the back of it.
“For all that data helps them direct the right advertisers to you – and then take a big cut. And they don’t share the data with the producers of the content, like newspapers, that is drawing people to their platforms. But the data is generated by you – and you’re handing it over for free.”
In a wide-ranging lecture entitled “The Politics of Newspapers”, Osborne said the recent Cairncross review only “scratches at the surface” and cautioned against the suggestion of creating an institute for public interest news. That would be “a Pandora’s Box that no-one will want to open,” he said, warning against the state deciding what is in the public’s interest on their behalf.
Acknowledging his surprise appointment as editor of the Standard in 2017, his lecture focussed on the close relationship between politicians and the press.
Speaking about “the feeling that politicians in Britain had become too close to the media, and the press was too powerful and too unaccountable,” Mr Osborne explained the mutually beneficial relationship between politicians and journalists.
From “unwritten rules” on advance copies of speeches to private lunches and dinners, he emphasised the importance of “direct access to the public” for politicians through the media, and their reciprocity through “positive headlines.”
Nevertheless, he insisted that “newspapers today don’t determine the outcome of elections or referendums. But it would be a great mistake to think that, as a result, they don’t matter to our politics – let alone our cultural, commercial and sporting life.
Newspapers may not decide elections but they play a key role in leading and structuring the public conversation,” he said.
In a Q&A after the speech Osborne addressed questions on islamophobia in the Conservative party, and said that a Brexit delay is “likely.” When asked about the allegations about the role of Cambridge Analytica in the Brexit referendum, he said “I would love to be able to say we were robbed – but we lost. Too many people voted the wrong way.”
Asked about the increasingly difficult situation faced by international students, he recalled standing up in cabinet against the “crazy” measures.
On his paper’s editorial policy on Brexit, he said: “If you think the country is making the wrong decision, you go and put it on the front page of the newspaper.”
Earlier, Lloyd Embley, Group Editor-in-Chief of Reach PLC, presented the £1,000 Hugh Cudlipp Student Journalism prize. Isabel Van Brugen was “unanimously” chosen as the winner for her undercover investigation at an abortion clinic in Northern Ireland, where she was told that having the procedure would “fill her breasts with cancer.”
Also, highly commended were Tony Diver, Amy Farnworth and Jennifer M Jones. Isabel’s friend Hasan Chowdhury collected the award on her behalf as she was unable to attend.
Now in its 20th year, the Hugh Cudlipp lecture is hosted by the London Press Club and sponsored by the Daily Mirror and Cision. It was created and named in memory of the late Lord Cudlipp, the former editorial director of the Daily Mirror.
The 2019 Cudlipp Lecture was widely reported. Click on the publication title to view: