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US-based tech companies offered to fly their top-ranking American executives to London to face the UK parliament's inquiry into “fake news”, but the committee of MPs refused the offer and organised an expensive three-day trip to the United States instead.
Two sources familiar with the offer told BuzzFeed News that the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee turned down the suggestion from Google, Facebook and Twitter that their executives come to London to do the hearing.
In response to questions from BuzzFeed News, a committee spokesperson claims Facebook and Google executives had expressed a desire to give the testimony in the United States.
Instead, the 11 MPs on the committee landed in the US on Tuesday for a trip that involves just one day of public hearings on Thursday with tech executives and news publishers.
The rest of it has been kept under wraps, with the committee repeatedly refusing to reveal what specific meetings the MPs will be having over the rest of their three days in New York and Washington.
The committee's plan to uproot the “fake news” inquiry and hold the first ever Commons-select public hearings outside of the United Kingdom was labelled “radical” when it first came to light last year.
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The Conservative MP who chairs it, Damian Collins, has been trying to put pressure on the most senior figures at the tech giants — most notably and persistently, Facebook, Google and Twitter — to be forced to answer to Parliament about the so-called “fake news” on their platforms.
Collins has been hell-bent on uncovering any alleged Russian interference on the social media platforms which may have affected the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum and 2017 general election.
And unlike US congress' efforts to expose Russian-trolls working to disrupt the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump, the Commons-select committee has been repeatedly told by the US-tech companies that they've found next-to-no Russian activity around Brexit.
On Thursday, US-based executives will face the committee in a small room at George Washington university. Among them will be Google's vice president of news Richard Gingras, YouTube's global public policy chief Juniper Downs, Facebook's head of policy Monika Beckert and Twitter's US-policy chief Carlos Monje.
Facebook's Monika Bickert, YouTube's Juniper Downs and Twitter's Carlos Monje face a US senate committee last month.
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Facebook, Google and Twitter will be questioned for one hour each. A panel of academics and representatives from the New York Times, CNN and CBS News will take up the afternoon session.
“It's also worth noting the US executives attending are based in California,” said a source familiar with the witnesses at the inquiry. “Not only is the whole delegation flying from London to New York and Washington but the executives – who had offered to come to London – are also flying across the United States to see them.”
The News Media Alliance's David Chavern.
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There'll also be a drinks event hosted by the News Media Alliance – the lobbying group for for the US newspaper industry that recently pushed for law changes to compete against Facebook and Google.
The Washington-based group will hold the “reception” for UK MPs after the last testimony is taken on Thursday night at the Newseum, a museum that celebrates the history of the American free press and the First Amendment.
The involvement of a group that represents new publishers raised eyebrows among the tech companies, whose representatives received a formal invitation to the event along with the committee's call to appear before the inquiry.
David Chavern, CEO of the News Media Alliance dismissed the suggestion that it could be seen as a potential conflict of interest for the British MPs to be enjoying drinks and hospitality provided by the newspaper lobby.
“I know 'hosted' is a word you're digging to use,” Chavern told BuzzFeed News. “Let me be very clear; We are holding a reception for them. That is all.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said a committee spokesperson accepted that tech companies wanted to come to London to give testimony. The spokesperson had actually said Facebook and Google expressed a desire to give their testimony in the United States.