Thursday 12 August 2010

'Relaxing ownership rules won't help local media'

A new Media Trust research report claims liberalising cross-media ownership rules will not solve the problems facing local news.
The report, Meeting the News Needs of Local Communities, says: "Success in local and regional news now appears to depend increasingly on scale. This leads to more mergers and takeovers with the result that larger companies serving bigger regions are producing news that, as this research reveals, has less and less relevance for local people.
"But large organisational structures with significant corporate demands have now become financial burdens and liberalisation of cross-media ownership rules in local and regional media is likely to exacerbate this problem and further to diminish the reason people turn to local news in the first place – to have a voice, to hear stories from their local community and see their local lives reflected.
"Local commercial news monopolies owned by a few national conglomerates may provide economies of scale but do not fulfil the news needs of local communities and do little to enhance local democracy."
The report says of new hyper-local sites:"While new technology is opening up new spaces for engagement of local communities and communities of interest, neither locals participating in our focus groups discussions nor our interviewees saw them as adequate replacements for a quality, genuinely local, independent news service, even by those running the local websites. It is also intermittent, unpredictable and particular to the individual producing it. As such, this content cannot be a substitute for regular, sustainable, independent journalism...
"These websites also have less visibility than traditional media and tend to circulate in predefined networks of interest. They are mostly self-financed and rely on the work of volunteers. As a consequence they are piecemeal, driven by the interests of the few and often survive on the financial goodwill of a small number of committed individuals."
The report recommends the development of local news hubs working across media platforms to share information, to improve the quality of journalistic investigations, and to create cost efficiencies. It says these could be responsive to the local need for an easily identifiable and visible centre for news gathering.
  • As requested by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Ofcom has now reported on the feasibility and implications of the removal of local cross-media ownership rules.

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