Strong local press ‘worth the fight’ says newspaper boss
East Anglian publisher Archant has broadly welcomed a new report looking at how to safeguard quality journalism in the UK.
The Cairncross Review, chaired by Dame Frances Cairncross, was commissioned by prime minister Theresa May to investigate the sustainability of quality journalism in the face of declining newspaper sales and falling revenues.
It says tech giants like Google and Facebook should have a “news quality obligation” - overseen by a regulator - to improve trust in the content they host, and calls for ministers to look at new tax breaks for “public interest” journalism, with direct funding for local public interest news.
It also recommends the creation of a new institute of public interest news, along the lines of the Arts Council, to channel financial support, and identifies investigative journalism and “democracy reporting” - such as local courts and councils - as under greatest threat.
It calls on the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate the workings of the online advertising market to ensure fair competition, acknowledging the power of online platforms like Google and Facebook to capture the majority of online advertising revenues, which makes it hard for traditional publishers, such as newspapers, to compete effectively.
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Archant chief executive Jeff Henry described it as “a thoughtful report” which has listened to the overwhelming need for action.
“As an industry, we felt it crucial that the report recognised the vital role that local journalism plays in democracy,” he said.
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“On a commercial front, our traditional print business model is under huge pressure but we have embraced the incredible opportunities that the digital world affords us. We can only do this if the playing field is level. The recommendation that the “complex and opaque online advertising market” be looked at by the Competition and Market Authority makes total sense.
“We can thrive and indeed are fast becoming a very relevant digital business serving local audiences and businesses. Local publishers make a huge contribution to the communities in which we all live.
“The report identifies the need for action and I look forward to many of the report proposals becoming reality with some urgency. Democracy benefits from a strong sustainable local press and Archant believes this is worth the fight.”
Archant’s chief content officer, Matt Kelly, said much of what local newspapers do is in the public interest.
“The government is right to be looking to find ways to make sure we can continue to do that work, even as our industry faces increasing commercial challenges. We argued hard for an extension of the local democracy reporters and are pleased to see Dame Cairncross listened to us.”
Steve Anglesey, Archant’s head of content in East Anglia, said: “The review is comprehensive and contains worthwhile proposals which will help safeguard the local news industry. With publishers facing increasing pressure, it is important that politicians act quickly and decisively to implement these findings rather than letting them get lost in the fog of Brexit.”