Damian Collins MP has clashed with the men running football, athleticsand cycling; yet his dealings with the media industry have been unusually civil since becoming chair of the influential parliamentary committee tasked with scrutinising the field.
The press, and the BBC in particular, have been at the centre of some bitter public rows in recent years. They often involved Collins’s predecessor, John Whittingdale, who became culture secretary after 10 years as the committee’s chair, and talking to his replacement now is like watching La La Land after the horrors of Hacksaw Ridge.
In just three months in the job, Collins has endeared himself to the newspaper industry by not just opposing the loathed section 40, which would impact newspapers’ legal costs in libel cases, but also by speaking out against fake news. On Monday, his committee is to launch an inquiry into the issue that is worrying both news organisations and politicians alike.
When asked what is on the agenda for 2017, Collins says he has to “finish off some important work on sport” – tackling Lord Coe over his knowledge of the Russian doping scandal, for one – and finalise a report on the impact of Brexit on the creative industries before launching the fake news inquiry.
He links the three key issues he is involved in by saying that investigative journalism exposed the corruption in sport he is so keen to stamp out, whether at the FA or in other sports, while the proliferation of fake news, by muddying the media ecosystem and helping to drain it of resources, is a direct threat to news organisations.
Collins wants to know why social media platforms cannot monitor news providers and alert users to potentially fake news. “If platforms like Facebook are the prime distribution tool for fake news, then what can Facebook do to combat that, to identify and flag up stories that are fake?