NMA CEO voiced concern over Facebook News scraping in the UK as sustainable journalism comes under threat and news publishers are set to lose online revenue. AFP News/Olivier DOULIERY

Meta is under fire in the UK after the Mark Zuckerberg-owned social media platform announced that they are shutting down the Facebook News option in Britain. The backlash came from newspaper groups in the UK who have warned about the ill effects of this.

The News Media Association (NMA), which has been the voice of several local, national and international newspapers, have warned that Meta's decision to scrap Facebook News in the UK could hurt the industry and society at large.

The NMA voiced its opinion through a hard-hitting letter sent to the Global Affairs president of Meta, Nick Clegg. The British newspaper group called it a "threat to democracy" as funding for local journalism has been cut down as part of the measure.

According to the NMA, this will choke trusted news sources and journalism in the UK. The letter called the move "financially damaging" for newspapers and "deeply concerning for the society".

The NMA has sent a copy of the letter to the UK culture secretary Lucy Frazer and the UK technology minister Michelle Donelan. Former British MP Nick Clegg has been the leader of the Liberal Democrat party. Clegg also served as a Deputy Prime Minister in the UK coalition government that ran from 2010 to 2015.

This came at a time when the Mark Zuckerberg-owned social media platform revealed earlier this month that they are scraping Facebook News in Europe. The social media giant also announced the halting of local journalism funding schemes in the UK.

This is part of Meta's effort to align its investments to products and services that people value the most. Facebook has a dedicated tab for news stories called Facebook News which makes it easier for people to look for news.

However, the Mark Zuckerberg company revealed that less than three per cent of users around the world use the Facebook News tab. Meta has labelled news discovery as "a small part of the Facebook experience" for most people.

Earlier this month, NMA CEO Owen Meredith underlined the importance of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, currently before parliament as it can "reset the balance of the online ecosystem" and "level the playing field between social media platforms and publishers". Meredith called local newspapers "the lifeblood of communities" and Meta should be supporting them for the sustainability of journalism in the UK.

Facebook News scraping to affect news publishers and audiences

The NMA letter has expressed its concern about the absence of "genuine editorially controlled news" on the social media platform. The NMA thinks that society will suffer when users aren't able to find authentic news on Facebook. This comes at a time when Google's AI news tool is casting a shadow of doubt over journalism.

The association is particularly concerned about the impact of Facebook News scraping on the upcoming UK general election next year. The NMA thinks that the media industry will be affected both financially and practically because of this as audiences used to trust the social media platform will be in limbo.

The NMA has the interests of the £4 billion British media sector at its heart as over 900 newspapers including the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Times, the Daily Mirror, the Yorkshire Post, the Sheffield Star and the Manchester Evening News are part of it.

The NMA letter comes from the chair of the organisation Jim Mullen who is also the owner of Reach Group and the chief executive of Mirror. The association has asked for a meeting with Meta to discuss the matter.

The agenda of the meeting will be on the distribution of reliable information and supporting local news publishers in the UK.

Meta isn't renewing its local news funding scheme called the Community News Project (CNP) which supports journalism in underserved communities. The scheme helped local journalism with over £13 million in funding in the last five years.

According to the NMA, Meta acknowledged the critical role of Facebook in journalism when it launched the CNP scheme and it remains an effective route of news gathering for people, especially during the time of election.

Earlier this year, the Mark Zuckerberg-owned company discontinued the "Instant Articles" feature on the Facebook app which was used by mobile users to read news articles. This led to a sharp decline in the digital revenue of news publishers including the UK's Reach group of newspapers.

The NMA insists that Meta's decision to scrap Facebook News in the UK has affected the ability of publishers to monetise traffic to their news portals.