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Local Press: Coronavirus

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport written question – answered on 6th May 2020.

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Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what plans he has to provide financial support to independent community news publications during the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

The government recognises the vital role of independent community newspapers in supporting particular groups and isolated individuals by ensuring the provision of reliable, high-quality information throughout the current pandemic. Safeguarding the UK’s news media at this time of financial instability is a key priority for the government and we are in regular dialogue with publishers to ensure that our response to the challenges they are facing is as effective as it can be.

To date, the government has issued guidance to local authorities on the importance of newspaper delivery, which has been critical to ensuring the continued dissemination of printed public interest news. We have also clarified that journalists and other ancillary staff are ‘key workers’ for the purposes of access to childcare and educational places.

The government has sought to maximise advertising opportunities for the news publishing sector through a public information campaign across many national and local titles. The current partnership brings together over 600 national, regional and local titles across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to reach 49 million people a month. All titles utilised in the campaign have been selected by our media planning and buying agency, OmniGOV. As with any media planning approach, titles are selected on their ability to engage with audiences and to ensure value for money, reach and targeting efficacy. The vast majority of titles are local papers and additional titles have been selected in order to further reach priority audiences including BAME and older men. In parallel, we have taken steps to ensure the use of ‘keyword blocklisting’ technology does not inadvertently damage news publishers’ online advertising revenues for Covid-19 related stories. Dialogue with the relevant technology companies has helped to protect publishers against the ad-blocking of coronavirus-related terms.

Most recently, the Chancellor also brought forward the zero rating of VAT on all e-publications to the 1st May - seven months ahead of schedule. The government expects the tax relief to be passed on to consumers in the form of reduced prices, and publishers should benefit from increased sales. Independent publishers may also benefit from several measures included in our unprecedented business support package, such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, Job Retention Scheme, Bounce Back Loans, VAT deferrals, and coverage of statutory sick pay costs.

The government will continue to consider all possible options in the interests of promoting and sustaining high-quality news journalism. Never have the activities of journalists been more popular and critical; providing quality news to all, including those self-isolating, and binding communities together, a fundamental function of our modern day democracy.

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