MPs say: 'It's local journalism, rather than local newspapers, that needs saving'
A new report published today by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee looking at the future of regional and local media concludes: "We endorse the sentiment that it is local journalism, rather than local newspapers, that needs saving. The two are far from mutually exclusive, but newspapers need to be innovative in the way they train their journalists to work in a multi-platform world." The report welcomes the BBC's proposals to increase the number of external links on their websites and states: "We recommend that every local BBC website should link to the local newspaper websites for that area."
It adds: "The long term impact of the recent loss of advertising income streams on local newspapers remains to be seen. The economic downturn shows signs of recovery, and this should manifest itself in some recovery of advertising revenues for local newspapers. However the adverse impact that the growth and popularity of the internet has had on newspaper purchasing and advertising does not look set to reverse. There is a significant generational shift in reading habits, and the internet is fostering a younger generation of electronic news consumers on which newspapers need to capitalise." However, it rules out state subsidies for the local press: "The state subsidy of national and local newspapers, as has been seen recently in France, is not the solution. Newspapers should remain independent of state funding and control and attempt to profit from diversifying their online presence as best as they can." It also backs the relaxation of merger rules governing the local press: "The evidence we have heard from local media groups about the need to modify the merger regime and cross-media ownership rules is persuasive. We welcome the recommendations made by Ofcom in their report to the Secretary of State on media cross-ownership rules, and urge the Government to implement them. However we believe more far-reaching reform is needed. In order for local newspapers to survive in a changing economic and technological world, they need to be regarded as competitors in a multi-media landscape. We recommend that the Government re-examine the arrangement by carrying out a consultation on a possible multi-media merger regime."
The report says: "We recommend that the Office of Fair Trading should conduct a review specifically on the impact of council publications on commercial local newspapers. There is a real problem with local authority newspapers and magazines that needs to be addressed. While it is clear that most of these publications, such as Portsmouth City Council's Flagship, are legitimate communications from a council to its citizens, this cannot be said for all local authority publications. Publications such as Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council's H&F News effectively pose as, and compete with, local commercial newspapers and are misleading to the public. It is unacceptable that a local authority can set up a newspaper in direct competition to the local commercial newspaper in this way. Nor should any council publication be a vehicle for political propaganda."
The report adds: "The importance of reporting on local institutions and local democracy cannot be overstated; without it there is little democratic accountability. This reporting must be independent and good quality in order to inform the public and maintain their confidence."
It also claims: "Despite the bleak reports we have heard about the future for local newspapers, we believe they will still be relevant for some time to come, not least because there is still a population of newspaper readers as well as digital 'have-nots'. However, to survive local newspapers need to innovate and invest in new technologies."
I am a freelance journalist based in the UK and was deputy editor of Press Gazette, the journalists' magazine, from 1993 until 2006. I want to give an independent view on media matters.
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