To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what steps his Department is taking to ensure a sustainable future for local newspapers.
This government is clear that local newspapers are vital to a healthy democracy, They are uniquely placed to undertake investigative journalism and scrutiny of public institutions, including local councils and courts.
As the independent Cairncross Review into the future of journalism identified, society is increasingly moving online and news publishers are facing significant challenges in transitioning to sustainable digital business models. The government supports the majority of the nine recommendations the Cairncross Review made for government, regulators and industry to help future-proof the sector, and is already taking some forward. We have worked with Nesta to develop a £2million pilot innovation fund, launched in October 2019, which seeks to invest in new technological prototypes, start-ups and innovative business models to explore new ways of sustaining the industry. The government will consider options for the full fund ahead of the next Spending Review.
Covid-19 has exacerbated and accelerated the already challenging financial situation for local papers. The government recognises their vital role in ensuring the provision of reliable, high-quality information throughout the current pandemic, and has therefore clarified that journalists and other ancillary staff are ‘key workers’ for the purposes of access to childcare and educational places. We have also issued guidance to local authorities on the importance of newspaper delivery, to support the continued dissemination of printed public interest news. Additionally, the government has sought to maximise publishers’ advertising opportunities through a public information campaign. The current partnership brings together over 600 titles across the UK, with the vast majority of titles being local papers.
Local publishers are also able to 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. We are committed to getting this work right, so future generations can be inspired and engaged by a free and vibrant press.