Five months into the role of Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons, and Damian Collins MP has consolidated a reputation as a well-informed politician with a decent grasp of key issues, ranging from fake news to the complexities of press regulation, post-Leveson.
His recent appearance at the Oxford Media Convention enhanced that reputation, with a speech stressing the seriousness of the fake news phenomenon.
Collins launched his fake news inquiry in January. With submissions having closed in early March, it’s the most pressing issue in his in-tray.
“He did very well to spot the controversies around fake news early on,” says John Whittingdale, who was Secretary of State at the DCMS until Theresa May sacked him.
He was himself Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee for a decade from 2005. “It’s exactly the kind of issue that the select committee is best placed to explore, as it allows you to draw from lots of different contributors that others can’t, and to hold a public hearing.”
So it was unsurprising that it dominated Collins’s Oxford keynote – as well as much of the convention itself.
“We may be at a tipping point where fake news is crowding out legitimate news and you have to regard that as a challenge for democracy,” he warned, highlighting how Donald Trump links the term to “anything he doesn’t agree with”.
The MP expressed his deep concern at the banning of CNN and the BBC from White House press conferences, stressing that this dangerous turn of events would “undermine confidence in the whole media industry”.
Described as being a more liberal Tory than some, Collins’s recommendations may prove more interventionist, and not rely purely on market forces.
As Whittingdale points out: “One area where he differs from me is that I believe the market will provide the best solution. People will know where to go to read reliable reports and, if they go elsewhere, it’s at their own risk. I think he sees a greater role for some kind of intervention.”