Future for local and regional media - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

1  Introduction

Our inquiry

1. On 24 March 2009 we decided to launch a new inquiry into the future for local and regional media. We were very much aware of the challenges facing local and regional newspapers, including the impact of the recession and structural changes within the industry, which have resulted in a significant downturn in advertising revenues, a growing number of job cuts and newspaper title closures. These pressures have also had a serious impact on local commercial radio stations and regional television. Traditional media platforms are also having to face the reality of changing consumer behaviour with people increasingly using the internet as their source of information.

2. We agreed terms of reference which covered the issues faced by local and regional newspaper, radio, television, and new media providers, and invited evidence on the following issues:

  • The impact on local media of recent and future developments in digital convergence, media technology and changing consumer behaviour;
  • The impact of newspaper closures on independent local journalism and access to local information;
  • How to fund quality local journalism;
  • The appropriateness and effectiveness of print and electronic publishing initiatives undertaken directly by public sector bodies at the local level;
  • The role and effects of search engines and online content aggregators on local media;
  • The future of local radio and television news;
  • The desirability of changes to the regulatory framework for print and electronic local media, including cross-media ownership and merger regulations;
  • The opportunities and implications of BBC partnerships with local media;
  • The extent of plurality required in local media markets;
  • Incentives for investment in local content;
  • Opportunities for 'hyper-local' media services.

3. We held seven oral evidence sessions and received a total of 63 written submissions. In July 2009 we went to Yorkshire and visited the Press Association headquarters, the Yorkshire Post, Real Radio Yorkshire and ITV Yorkshire as well as holding a public meeting in York to discuss local and regional media with media representatives and members of the public.

4. During our inquiry, issues related to local and regional media were also considered by other public bodies. In June 2009 the Government published the Digital Britain final report,[1] which set out plans for the formation of independently financed news consortia (IFNCs) which would have a significant impact on the future of regional and local news. Ofcom[2] and the Office of Fair Trading[3] also examined this area. We have taken note of these reports and their findings during the course of our inquiry.

Local and regional media in the UK

5. Almost all the submissions which we received in relation to our inquiry stressed the importance of local and regional media. For instance, the Press Association stated in its submission that local and regional media provided a "trusted source of public service information and accountability for local communities".[4] The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) outlined the Government's belief in the importance of local and regional media:

    Government recognises the importance to our democracy of local news, as a source of independent, local information produced to high journalistic standards, and news plurality. We believe that wide availability of news at all levels, national, regional and local, is at the core of public service content. Research carried out as part of Ofcom's public service broadcasting (PSB) review showed very clearly that people trust and value the provision and choice in news services in this country, and they trust and value local and regional news in particular.[5]

6. Channel 4 pointed to the fact that local media organisations are a "valuable training ground"[6] for new talent looking to break into television production, journalism and radio. This is part of what has been termed the 'news pyramid' which we discuss in more detail in paragraph 14.

7. According to the media regulator, Ofcom, the vast majority of adults in the UK (90%) are consumers of some sort of local media.[7] Over 70% watch regional news on television, and three-quarters read a local newspaper at least weekly, while nearly half listen to local and commercial radio, one in five access a local news website and three quarters of adults in the UK consume local news on a regular basis.[8] The UK's local and regional media sector includes approximately 1,300 regional and local newspaper titles; 350 local and regional BBC and commercial radio services; regional television news bulletins delivered by both publicly-funded and commercial providers; an embryonic local television sector; and a range of commercial and non-commercial community-based media. A summary of regional and local media in the UK is outlined in the table below:
Type of media Number of services/publications Examples of operators/comment
Local and regional newspapers c.1300Trinity Mirror, GMG, Johnston Press, Newsquest, Archant
Local/Regional commercial radio services 304Bauer, Global, UTV, GMG Radio, LRC
Channel 3 television 8 TV bulletins in England plus 2 in Scotland, 1 in Wales and 1 in Northern Ireland. Sub-regional obligations in 6 regions ITV Plc, STV, UTV, Channel TV
BBC Regional TV news 12 main programmes plus 3 English opts BBC also produces Newyddion for S4C
Local TV4 RSLs active. Very limited number of cable/satellite only local channels Mixture of community groups, small firms and GMG (Channel M)
BBC Local and Nations Radio 40 local stations in England - 2 national services in Wales, 2* Scottish national service, 2* NI service Includes non-English language stations in Wales and Scotland
Community radio135 stations broadcasting Run by not-for-profit geographic and non-geographic focused community groups
InternetDiverse range of sites - many thousands operating Includes wide range of community groups, sites operated by traditional media groups, online only operators and search engines/content aggregators. BBC operator of network of 60 local websites, covering 55 areas (and 5 Welsh language)

Source: Ofcom

8. In its evidence to our inquiry, Ofcom noted that the term 'local' could be interpreted by the public in many different ways, and that local media should not be regarded as one business model facing one set of challenges.[9] Whilst consumer research suggested that individuals found it easy to distinguish between the concepts of 'national' and 'regional', there are differences in how people classify different levels of 'localness'. Definitions of localness are inherently flexible, and what could be construed as 'regional' in some contexts could be regarded as 'local' in another. The areas covered by certain media vary enormously in the UK in terms of geographical and population coverage. Commercial radio stations such as Capital Radio can serve millions of people and still be regarded as 'regional', as can newspapers such as The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post. In the devolved nations the terms 'regional' and 'national' are even more complex. Regional news on television in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is, in reality, national news rather than news about smaller regions within that nation, as is the case in England. We took account of this further layer of complexity when trying to classify what constitutes regional and local during our inquiry.

9. We also heard evidence about new 'ultra-local' or 'hyper-local' initiatives, such as websites and community radio, based in communities which are another level of localness. It is difficult to provide a precise definition of what constitutes 'ultra' or 'hyper' local but they can be regarded as serving a smaller, and more targeted geographic area than is traditionally served by a local newspaper or commercial radio station. These services are often characterised by the large amount of user-generated content they offer and the emphasis they place on the dialogue between the producers and consumers of the content. We examine hyper-local initiatives in more detail in paragraph 253 to paragraph 263 of this Report.

10. As well as the importance of local and regional media to consumers, we also considered how much local and regional media is, and should be, available to the public. Most of those who gave evidence to our inquiry stressed the importance of safeguarding plurality, ie: the number of different media 'voices' in an area or on a media platform rather than the number of services. For example, a community may have several local newspapers, but if they are all owned by the same company, that would not be considered as plurality. A choice of media voices, services and platforms is needed to provide balance and access to local and regional information for all consumers, including the "digital have-nots" - those who do not have internet access. Access to digital media is subject to many factors, including age, ability, income and location. Recent Ofcom research put the number of people who do not use the internet at all at 22% of UK adults. In the age group 65-74 that figure was 54% and in the age group 75+ it was 80%.[10] Therefore we have been careful to remember when examining local media issues that there is still a segment of society that is not digitally enabled, for whatever reason.

11. Given the consensus of opinion on the importance of, and demand for, local and regional media it begs the question: why do local media organisations claim to be in crisis? A number of factors contributing to the pressures and challenges faced by local and regional media groups have been brought to our attention during our inquiry. The global economic recession has resulted in a decline in advertising revenues for all media groups, as well as a decline in the purchasing of media products. There has also been a migration of advertising revenues away from traditional media including television, regional and local press and commercial radio to online advertising. We examine these in detail, along with other pressures specific to each of the media platforms covered, in the following chapters of this Report.

1   Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Digital Britain, final report, Cm 7650, June 2009 Back

2   Ofcom, Local and Regional Media in the UK, September 2009 Back

3   Office of Fair Trading, Review of the local and regional media merger regime, June 2009 Back

4   Ev 240 Back

5   Ev 126 Back

6   Ev 164 Back

7   Ev 170 Back

8   Ev 170-171 Back

9   Ev 168 Back

10   Ofcom, Technology tracker Q4 2009, February 2010, Ofcom.org.uk Back

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