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28 April 2022

NMA: Interim Measures Would Help Secure Immediate Future For Trusted Local Journalism

A package of interim measures would help secure the immediate future for trusted local journalism while action is taken to level the playing field between the tech platforms and news publishers, the News Media Association said.   

Local publishers including Baylis Media, Newsquest, Reach and Midland News Association have united to stress the importance of putting the Digital Markets Unit on a statutory footing as soon as possible to tackle the imbalance of power between publishers and the tech platforms.

The increased public appetite for trusted news and information is fuelling growth in local media's audiences, with the sector now reaching 42 million people a month, the NMA said. "Local journalism is vital for society and democracy, providing editorially controlled, reliable sources of news and information for communities across the UK.

"Local journalists are at the heart of their community, reporting on the stories that matter to residents; they hold the powerful to account and shine a light on the important issues that would otherwise go unscrutinised.

"At a time when misinformation and disinformation is rife online, local news publishers are a much needed and valued beacon of trust."

In its submission to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into the sustainability of local journalism, the NMA welcomed the inquiry but stressed the need for action to help secure the future of local journalism.

As well as putting the DMU on legislative footing, the NMA made a series of recommendations for government including providing a package of targeted, short-term financial measures such as extending local newspaper business rate relief and introducing new tax reliefs for journalism and advertising.

The scope and scale of the BBC’s online news services should be limited, with the BBC/NMA Local News Partnership expanded instead, the NMA said.

The success of the ‘All Together’ Covid-19 advertising campaign should be built upon with a long-term government advertising partnership with news publishers which – like ‘All Together’ - specifically prioritises local news publishers.

The statutory obligation to place public notices in printed local newspapers must be maintained to protect the public right to know and safeguard this important revenue stream for local journalism.

In its submission to the inquiry, Baylis Media said it had fed into and supported the NMA recommendations on Government actions to support the industry.  "There have been several inquiries into the sustainability of the local independent journalism that BML has submitted evidence to in the past. The outcomes of the inquires have been limited.

The publisher added: "Now really is the time for decisive action to be taken by the government to support the sector to enable the transformation to a digital first business model to be developed at speed to ensure the community BML serves benefits from the ability to access trusted local journalism.

In its submission, Reach said: "We draw particular attention to the urgent need for the Digital Markets Unit to be granted the necessary powers to ensure fairer reward for national and local newsbrand content as well as greater transparency over how content is distributed and the value it creates for the platforms."

In Newsquest's submission, chief executive Henry Faure Walker said the publisher supported the NMA's submission. He added: "Local journalism is at a critical juncture. It can have a vibrant, independent future in the UK, but the government needs to lean in now and provide more support."

Writing to the Committee on behalf of the Midland News Association, editor of the Express and Star Martin Wright said the publisher fully endorsed the NMA's evidence.

Mr Wright added: “As the NMA submission makes clear, with the right policy interventions, there is a strong future for independent commercial local journalism – and the increasing reach of our audience reinforces the demand for trusted sources of local and regional news.

“In the case of our own brands, we are continuing to innovate in the digital sphere while maintaining the quality of our print portfolio.

“However, the challenges facing our business are numerous. Generating reader subscription revenue for digital content continues to be difficult, a situation exacerbated by the free-to-use news service provided by the BBC. In this context, the BBC’s ‘Across the UK’ plan to expand local coverage is a particular concern.”

In its evidence, DCMS said: "Traditional news providers have a proven record, and the expertise needed, to hold local government and wider public services to account and undertake thorough, expert and robust investigative journalism.

"Local news providers perform a vital ‘watchdog’ function concerning the efficiency of public services and the management of local finances, auditing Local Authority spending and improving accountability and transparency in local institutions and services, including covering stories that might not be picked up by the national press.

"Local news provision brings social, economic and democratic benefits, including through increased local election turnout, community engagement, and by fostering a sense of cohesion and pride in local communities."

"This view is supported by a wealth of evidence."