Local and regional news coverage provides a vital service - providing information about local public affairs, holding local decision-makers to account, and providing a forum for community discussion.
Public service broadcasters, including the BBC, and national and local commercial radio stations, have requirements to produce regional and local news. The BBC’s Royal Charter requires the BBC to represent, reflect and serve audiences, taking into account the needs of diverse communities of all the UK nations and regions. Under the new regulatory system introduced by the Government in 2017, the BBC Board must ensure the BBC complies with its Charter duties, and Ofcom was established as the BBC regulator to ensure the BBC is robustly held to account.
The Government’s manifesto also recognises the indispensable role of the local and regional press, committing to “support local and regional newspapers, as vital pillars of communities and local democracy”. It has been an absolute priority to ensure we do all we can as a Government to support local news outlets during the Covid-19 crisis as well as supporting commercial and community radio. This included taking the decision to bring forward the commencement of zero-rating of VAT on e-newspapers to May 2020 and working with Arqiva, the UK’s TV and radio transmission provider, to provide six months discount charges which has benefited local commercial radio stations .
The Government also took steps to ensure local media could operate during the Covid 19 lockdown period. Journalists and other key media ancillary staff were designated as ‘key workers’ for the purposes of access to childcare and educational places. The Government also issued guidance to local authorities on the importance of newspaper delivery; took steps to ensure the use of ‘keyword blocklisting’ technology is not inadvertently damaging news publishers’ online advertising revenues for Covid-19 related stories by ad-blocking coronavirus-related terms; and implemented a significant public information campaign, using local and national press and commercial radio extend the reach of these campaigns.