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21 November 2019

Local Media Sector Issues Challenge To Party Leaders

The local media sector, through the News Media Association, has challenged party leaders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn to answer five questions about how they would help the industry if they were elected Prime Minister. 

The NMA said: "Senior politicians from all the main parties have acknowledged the importance of local news brands, local newspapers and their websites, to our democratic society. Local news media are the most trusted source of local news and information and are relied upon by the public to hold power to account.

"But local journalism is facing significant challenges caused by changing news consumption habits and the tech platforms’ stranglehold on the digital advertising marketplace. The industry, which funds the local journalism read by more than 40.6 million people each month, needs support now to weather these challenges and build a sustainable model for the future."

The five questions are:

  1. The Cairncross report contained a range of helpful ideas to support the industry but, 18 months after the review was launched, we have seen no significant progress. Can you offer a commitment to implement these recommendations, in particular establishing binding codes of conduct governing the tech platforms’ relations with news media companies, acting on the forthcoming CMA report into the digital advertising market, extending VAT zero rating to e-newspapers, and expanding the NMA/BBC Local News Partnership, within six months of being elected Prime Minister?

  2. One easy way for Government to help the industry is to put more advertising spend back into local media. Government is one of the biggest UK advertisers, but a huge proportion of its ad spend is being invested into the tech platforms, which have been linked with brand safety and fraud risks for the advertiser. Will you invest more of the Government’s considerable advertising budget into commercial news media?

  3. The industry has long called for a media freedom audit on all proposed primary and secondary legislation to protect this fundamental right which underpins our democratic way of life. Can you commit to undertaking this?

  4. The BBC regulatory regime explicitly requires it to show distinctiveness in its services to avoid causing harm to independent commercial media companies. Can you confirm that this regime will be more rigorously enforced if you were elected Prime Minister?

  5. Will you support the UK’s system of voluntary press self-regulation and commit to the repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which, if enacted, would force publishers to submit to statutory press regulation or face paying crippling legal costs for both sides in libel and privacy cases, even if they win? Will you commit to seeing the UK move into the top five of the global press freedom rankings from its current position of number 33 – behind Namibia, South Africa, Latvia, Ghana, Lithuania and Lichtenstein?

In its manifesto, launched this morning, Labour said it would "address misconduct and the unresolved failures of corporate governance raised by the second stage of the abandoned Leveson Inquiry.

"We will take action to address the monopolistic hold the tech giants have on advertising revenues and will support vital local newspapers and media outlets. We will consult media-sector workers and trade unions to establish an inquiry into the ‘fake news’ undermining trust in media, democracy and public debate, and on a legal right of public interest defence for journalists," the Labour manifesto said.

In their manifesto, the Lib Dems said they would introduce a Leveson-compliant regulator to be given oversight of both privacy and quality, diversity and choice in both print and online media, and proceed with part two of the Leveson Inquiry.

The Conservative Party manifesto is set to be published on Sunday but in its manifesto for the 2017 general election, which was welcomed by the industry, it pledged to discontinue the Leveson Inquiry and repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. 

Under the banner of the NMA, the news media sector united in its opposition to Leveson 2 and Section 40 through the Free the Press campaign.