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 Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:41 pm, 19th November 2018

Local journalism and local journalists are the lifeblood of our media. I welcome much of what the Secretary of State has said, although we have not heard enough about the guarantee for pensions, workers’ rights and jobs, and I have spoken to a number of journalists who are deeply concerned. He will know that the National Union of Journalists has voiced significant concerns about the long-term intentions of the company’s new owners, amid fears that it has been purchased with a view to asset stripping. Does he believe that it would be prudent for the new owners to make a commitment to staff regarding their motivations for taking over and to offer assurances about their long-term plans for Johnston Press?

Much has been said about what can be done, and the demise of Johnston Press has largely been put down to the rise of digital media, so I am sure that the Secretary of State will find it more than passing strange that the previous chief executive will be the new chief executive in that new company. A company has failed, and I think we all find it very strange that it has shut down, moved on some of its debts and pension liabilities, and popped up with a shiny new name. We must be sure that the workers’ rights and pensions are protected.

The Secretary of State may know that Norway has the strongest penetration of digital news subscriptions of any country, as almost two thirds of Norwegians mostly find news by going directly to traditional news providers. He may therefore also find it strange that one of the major shareholders—the Norwegian investor, Christen Ager-Hanssen, who is in Parliament today—has been shut out and that his shares are now valueless. Will the Secretary of State meet me, Tom Watson and Mr Ager-Hanssen to discuss the issues? I recommend Lesley Riddoch’s film, “Nation”, which looks at Norway’s model of funding the second newspaper in every region of Norway. Will he look at that model and compel Frances Cairncross to include it in the review in order to look at the options available for workers, who we think of today?