Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Parly debate on the future of local newspapers: Could subsidies and tax breaks save the sector?

Parliament is to host a debate tomorrow at 4pm (April 25) in Westminster Hall on the future of local newspapers in the wake of the decision by Johnston Press to turn five of its daily titles into weeklies.

The debate comes as the NUJ  is suggesting that a tax on media industries could be used to subsidise the local press.

Leading the Parly debate will be Louise Mensch (top), the Conservative MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire and member of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee who is arguing a case for tax advantages to be given to the local press or for newspapers to be run by local trusts.

She secured the debate following the decision of Johnston Press to turn its two Northamptonshire dailies, the Northampton Chronicle and Echo and Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph, weekly.

Mensch said: “The local press performs a unique function in our democracy, as often only a local paper will hold a council or MP to account. Government has to look at ways of preserving Britain’s most popular print media – read by an estimated 33 million people per month. When we think of so many things that are subsidised that have only limited appeal, surely there is a case for tax advantages for local papers. And if a pure profit model doesn’t work, government should look at ways to facilitate local communities and businesses owning their own papers – like the supporters trust model for football clubs.”

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said one option to save the local press would be a levy on media industry profits to provide subsidies. "Our local newspapers are a community asset that should be cherished. The cuts mean that court cases are not being covered, council meetings are not reported and reporters have no time to dig and delve for stories. This is not the service that readers deserve.

"All this means that community and grassroots news has suffered. An industry levy – a tax or charge on the revenues or profits of media organisations – common in many European countries is one option to provide subsidies elsewhere in the industry. A levy of one per cent on pay TV operators, such as Sky and Virgin Media, could bring in around £70 million a year.”

Linda Riordan MP for Halifax has put down an EDM on Johnston Press. The Halifax Courier is one of the Johnston titles to switch from daily to weekly.

The EDM says: “That this House notes with sadness the decision by Johnston Press to move many long-established local newspapers from a daily publication to a weekly publication; condemns this unnecessary move and the implications it will have for the jobs of many journalists, printers, newspaper sellers and newspaper deliveries; praises the role local daily newspapers like the Halifax Courier and other titles in towns like Kettering, Northampton, Peterborough and Scarborough play in local democracy and in reporting the news on a daily basis; further notes the knock-on effect this will have on the local economies of the towns affected; urges Johnston Press to protect existing jobs at the newspaper titles affected and ensure that there are no compulsory job losses; further urges them to consult fully with the National Union of Journalists about their proposals; and hopes that local newspapers will continue to play an important role in the life of local communities for many years to come."

  • The Independent in a leader today on the "Decline and fall of the local press" says: "The problem is that the internet can do most of what local newspapers have been doing for decades, such as telling people what is on at the cinema or giving them a medium through which to buy or sell a car. What the web has yet to acquire is the ability to monitor the council the way that the local reporter in the press gallery once did. But though the newspapers may all vanish, for the sake of our democracy local journalism must survive."

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