Thursday 18 June 2009

Digital Britain: Newspaper Society response

The Newspaper Society, whose plea for a relaxation of the merger regime for regional newspapers was rejected, has given its response to the Digital Britain Report and OFT recommendations.
The NS says it "is discussing the recommendations and their implications for regional and local media companies with the Government and relevant bodies including the OFT, Ofcom and the Audit Commission."
It claims: "The importance of strong local and regional news came through in the report and ministerial presentations, with Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw describing it as “essential for the health and vibrancy of our democracy.”
The NS says the main recommendations affecting the regional and local media sector are:

Regional and Local Newspaper Mergers: OFT has concluded that the existing merger regime is suitably flexible to respond to changing market conditions and no legislative change is needed but that OFT will amend its guidance by the end of the summer to ensure that it asks Ofcom to provide a Local Media Assessment in cases raising competition issues.

Local Council Publications: The OFT and Digital Britain reports noted the adverse impact on local newspapers of the increasing role of local authorities in taking paid advertising to support local authority information sheets, saying that such publications will inevitably not be as rigorous in holding local institutions to account as independent local media. The Government has called on the Audit Commission to undertake an inquiry into the practice (to be completed by the end of the summer).

Public Service Content: To help address challenges facing commercially-provided news across all media – TV, radio, newspapers and online - the Government will consult openly on the option of a Contained Contestable Element of the Television Licence Fee carrying forward the current ring-fenced element for Digital Switchover (c.3.5% of the Licence Fee) after 2013, for the clearly defined purpose of funding news.

Pilots of Independently Funded News Consortia to be conducted in Scotland, Wales, and one English region to help secure a regional and local stream of multimedia and broadcast news. Similar arrangements will be discussed by the UK and Channel Islands governments. IFNCs could include existing TV news providers, newspaper groups or other newsgathering agencies.

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