Johnston Press: Administration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 19th November 2018.

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Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 3:41 pm, 19th November 2018

I, too, spoke to David King this weekend. Like many right hon. and hon. Members from Government and Opposition parties, I was alarmed at the plans for Johnston Press to go into administration. This centuries-old British company has more than 200 newspapers that report vital local, regional and national news and hold the powerful to account. Although, as the Secretary of State says, the buy-out by JPI seems to have averted the imminent closure of those publications, their long-term future, and that of hundreds of jobs, is far from certain.

This is part of a bigger, long-term global strategic question: in this digital age of information abundance, how can local democracy be preserved through quality local journalism? Since 2005, some 200 local newspapers have closed and we have lost half all local journalists. For 10 years, we have seen the impact of digital disruption on local journalism. After eight years of the current Administration, all we hear is the Secretary of State referring to a process that they currently articulate as the Cairncross review.

Whilst Ministers prevaricate and hold open sessions, the tech oligopolies have consolidated their media advantage by dominating digital ad revenues. They continue to avoid fair taxes and will pay less once the Government’s corporation tax cuts are introduced under the Finance Bill. Some have even allowed criminal data breaches on their platforms. Worse still, they sneer at Parliaments around the world that try to hold them to account. I remind the House again that even Rupert Murdoch showed greater respect for our democratic institutions than Mark Zuckerberg, who refused to appear before our Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Specifically on the Johnston Press, which is a victim of the long-term strategic changes in the media market that the Secretary of State’s colleagues, including the Parliamentary Private Secretary, Andrew Bowie, who is chuntering from a sedentary position, seem to think are funny—