CULTURE Secretary Sajid Javid has highlighted some of the ways in which the Government can help local media such as exploring the relationship between the BBC and the industry during the Charter review, and the need to progress this work in the next parliament.
In a letter this week to Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairman John Whittingdale – which followed a meeting with Ashley Highfield, Chief Executive Johnston Press – which owns the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail, and other representatives from the industry – the Culture Secretary highlighted “the strong cross-party support” for local media and the work the Government should take on to support the industry which provides a “vital function in our democracy.”
It also follows a recent backbench debate on the Future of Local Newspapers that took place last month.
Mr Javid wrote: “Following the Chancellor’s announcement at Budget that the Government will consult on whether to introduce a business rates relief for local newspapers, I am writing to set out the progress that we have made and further work still to do in this area.
“There is an obvious public interest in having journalists situated at the heart of the communities they serve. There is no doubt that if funding was not an issue, the choice location for local newspaper offices – for residents and journalists – alike – would be in town centres, in a building that comfortably meets their resourcing needs.
“We recognise that business rates can be a burden on businesses and can add to their fixed costs. Looking at implementing a relief on business rates for local newspapers should provide us with options for targeting these organisations so as to reduce their costs and support them to provide their vital function in our democracy.”
Mr Javid also supported Mr Highfield’s recent calls for MPS to encourage the creation of a more symbiotic relationship between local media and the BBC, where the BBC uses local paper websites to distribute its content.
“In their report on the future of the BBC, your Committee considered the connection between the BBC and local news. I agree that this relationship should be explored in the review of the Royal Charter and there should be consideration given to how a healthy local newspaper industry can be supported,” Mr Javid wrote.
“I have also been asked by representatives of the local media industry about the way the competition framework applies to mergers of local newspapers. There are specific checks and balances that apply to local media in respect of mergers – the local media assessments provided by Ofcom. This has been applied in a few instances and should continue to be monitored.”
Mr Highfield said: “Clearly there is strong cross-party support for this industry and we’re extremely grateful to Mr Javid for the steps he is taking to ensure this is carried forward in the next parliament.”