Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Support Measures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:20 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington 3:20 pm, 8th October 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Simon Jupp. I offer my congratulations to Julian Knight and my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan on securing this debate and my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. I record my thanks to Giles Watling for organising the cross-party effort voicing concern about the self-employed working in the sector.

It is a huge and diverse sector, but in the limited time available I shall focus on the pandemic’s impact on UK journalism and our cultural institutions. The “Press Gazette” estimates that we have lost over 2,000 jobs in newsrooms across the country, with many more journalists taking pay cuts to save their jobs. Despite that, the Welsh culture committee has warned of an impending avalanche of redundancies and closures in the regional media when the furlough period ends—very shortly.

Regional media were already under threat even before covid. In recent weeks, I and other hon. Members have voiced concerns about the BBC’s plans to cut local and regional programming, with the threat to award-winning current affairs programmes such as “Inside Out”. In an era of fake news and social media conspiracy theories, trusted, reliable and accurate local journalism and regional media have never been more important. The sector is quite right to ask why it has been sidelined and excluded from support for culture and the arts.

The National Union of Journalists’ news recovery plan has presented Ministers with detailed proposals to safeguard the industry. Unlike many recovery plans, the NUJ has identified a within-sector means of funding the package—a windfall tax on the tech giants who have seen their profits soar during the pandemic. The comprehensive programme to safeguard and strengthen UK journalism is too extensive for me to do it justice today, but I would respectfully ask the Minister to meet me and the NUJ to consider the merits of implementing such a plan.

I acknowledge that the Government have provided some support to newspapers by putting money into public health advertising. However, I ask the Minister that any future advertising take a bottom-up approach, with the advertising spend going to independents in hyper-local news titles like East Durham Life in the first instance, before moving up the newspaper title hierarchy.

We need to ensure that any taxpayers’ support to industry comes with duties and responsibilities. I hope the Minister will commit from the Dispatch Box that no public money will be made available to firms making redundancies, cutting pay, curtailing frontline journalistic roles, taking excessive executive bonuses or blocking trade union organisations, and I do not believe it is unreasonable to make specific demands of businesses and sectors that require public support as part of their covid recovery plans. I praise the work of the Public and Commercial Services Union cafeteria and retail workers at the Tate galleries, who took strike action in an attempt to avoid compulsory redundancies and won significant concessions. We have heard about the culture recovery fund, but it is yet to save a single job in seven specific areas where the PCS is in discussions, including the V&A, Historic Royal Palaces, the Royal Collection Trust, the National Gallery, the National Museums Liverpool and the Southbank Centre.