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21 May 2020

NMA Calls For Business Rates Relief For News Media

The News Media Association has called for business rates relief for news media across the United Kingdom after MSPs voted yesterday for the measure to apply to titles in Scotland.    

An amendment to the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill passed yesterday after 41 MSPs voted to extend business rate relief, which currently applies to retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, to news publishers. Thirty-eight voted against.

The NMA has been calling on Government for business rates relief to be extended to news media in order to help publishers, in particular local publishers, combat the dramatic declines in ad revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak in March, the NMA called for a business rates holiday for news publishers. 

"Our members are struggling to understand why the business rates holiday has just been extended by guidance published by the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government to miscellaneous businesses such as tanning shops and estate agents for example, but not to news publishers which are providing vital information to the public and every local community throughout the UK," the NMA said in the letter. 

The NMA said today: “The Government has implemented some very helpful initiatives as the news media industry grapples with the challenges of the pandemic, such as fast-tracking VAT zero rating on e-publications, a public health ad campaign in news media, and early recognition of the industry’s key status. These measures are making a difference and we welcome them.   

“However, the industry, principally the local news media sector, requires further significant intervention if it is to survive this crisis and continue to deliver the trusted journalism which the public are demanding in ever greater numbers.

“We urge the Government to urgently look at other initiatives such as business rates relief, support for public interest reporting, advertising tax reliefs for news media, and quickly progressing work to level the playing field with the tech platforms.”

MSPs spoke of the importance of trusted news media in the fightback against the coronavirus in keeping the public informed and holding authority to account. The Scottish Newspaper Society has been making the case  for Scottish titles to receive business rates relief to the Scottish Government.

The amendment to the bill was moved by Murdo Fraser MSP, Conservative. Speaking in the debate yesterday, he said: “As we know, local newspapers are a vital source of information, particularly at the present time, when people are seeking information about what they can safely do, what is going on in the world and what messages Government and health authorities are telling them. They often derive that knowledge from local newspapers. People may not be able to access local newspapers in physical form, but many local papers have websites that people are accessing.

“Local newspapers are important, but they are suffering extremely hard times at the moment. Those that have continued to publish have seen a collapse in revenue. Circulation is down 25 per cent. Advertising revenue is down 75 per cent, which is not surprising, as many of the businesses that would normally advertise, such as hotels, restaurants and retailers, are not operating. These are extremely difficult times in the world of local newspapers.

“Some famous titles, such as the West Highland Free Press, have stopped publishing altogether—at least in physical format—and maintain only an online presence. Others are struggling on in print, but all are in real difficulty.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, Lib Dem, said: “At a time when we are passing unprecedented levels of power to the Scottish Government, the UK Government and the police, it is absolutely vital that we maintain a thriving media industry to hold them all to account. That starts with our local papers.”