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

Written evidence submitted by the Newspaper Society

  1.  The Newspaper Society represents the regional media industry. Its members publish around 1,300 print titles, 1,200 websites, 450 magazines, 250 ultra local titles, 45 radio stations and 2 TV services.

  2.  Britain's local media is reaching more people than ever across its print, online and broadcast platforms, delivering trusted local news to 40 million print readers a week and 24 million web users a month.

  3.  There is a continuing and growing demand for the independent and campaigning local news, opinion, comment, information and advertising, which are uniquely supplied by our members' regional and local media companies.

  4.  The industry is developing these services, in ever evolving forms across ever increasing multi-media platforms, in order to attract and retain its audience against ever increasing competition for the advertising which tradionally funded its editorial and other services.

  5.  We refer you to the NS website www.newspapersoc.org.uk which publicises some of the regional, local and ultralocal innovations and services provided by our members.

  6.  The industry currently faces an unprecedented combination of economic and structural challenges. It has explained to Government and regulators what action is needed now to assure the future of a lively, vital and relevant regional and local media. We refer you to our public response to Digital Britain interim report, also on our website.


  7.  Urgent changes to the media ownership controls (Enterprise Act 2000 and Communications Act 2003) are necessary, in order to allow transfers of regional and local titles between publishers, as well as mergers of companies.

  8.  In addition to changes in the substantive law, the OFT and Competition Commission should improve their approach and guidance on local media markets and regional media transfers and mergers. They should recognise the realities of the range and intensity of competition, both advertising and editorial, in local media markets.

  9.  Cross-media ownership controls over local newspaper/broadcast media should be relaxed and removed.

  10.  The industry is participating fully in the OFT/OFCOM/DCMS/BERR reviews under Digital Britain but urgent action by Government is needed.


  11.  Regional and local media companies are keen to explore all opportunities for multi-media regional development and multi-media markets for their regional and local advertising, editorial and other content services.

  12.  They are developing multi-media portfolios of print, broadcasting, mobile and online services.

  13.  Regional media companies are interested in exploring regional media consortia, perhaps best achieved through an experimental pilot project and are in discussions with a wide range of other interested media organisations.

  14.  The Government should engage helpfully with regional media on strategy and development, enter into a helpful dialogue with the regional media to minimise any regulatory problems, especially ownership and competition issues, explore public service funding options and promote helpful development of the technical infrastructure, broadband roll out and spectrum issues.

  15.  The regional press needs to have confidence that mutual benefits will be obtained if it develops closer relationships or partnerships with the BBC. To that end it argues for the need for better governance, tighter controls and improved enforcement over a range of the BBC's activities, whether licence fee funded or commercial, which could or already have an adverse market impact upon the regional press.

  16.  The regional press believes this should include a fundamental review of the BBC's governance, licence fee and regional publicly funded activities.


  17.  Government departments, which are already encouraged and expected to connect with local communities by engaging with local and regional media editorially, should be instructed to look equally favourably upon local and regional media, rooted within those communities, for advertising campaigns, recognising the unique public value, trusted environment and effectiveness such spend offers, with resulting benefits to the local community.

  18.  The Government should not bring forward legislation to require relaxation of any statutory requirements for publication of public notices in local newspapers. It should continue to include such requirements in new legislation. This not only alerts and informs those interested, but also encourages and maintains openness and accountability, while also supporting the local media which are the cornerstones of local communities.

  19.  The Government should issue guidance to local authorities:

    — to discontinue publication of local government newspapers and media services in competition with the independent commercial media (see www.newspapersoc.org.uk);

    — to stop carrying third-party advertising in their print publications or other platforms eg websites; and

    — local authorities and public sector bodies should be encouraged to place recruitment and other advertising in the more effective independent local and regional media.


  20.  The Government should not alter the current UK legal framework or do anything which undermines the intellectual property rights of publishers. Government policy should not constrain the ability of parties to negotiate terms on which regional media companies choose to make their content available or charge for it, but should encourage and support industry and market-led solutions.

  21.  It is regional media companies that invest in the journalism which provides the basis of the rest of the media's news output. News gathering, the raw material for any media organisation, is especially expensive. The industry has therefore suggested that the Government should urgently explore in consultation with publishers effective ways in which Google and others should be prevented from profiting from third party content, without recompense to, or the consent from, the media companies who generated the material upon which they have built their businesses.

  22.  The Government should not extend the legal deposit regime or encourage the British Library to exploit the multi-media content generated by regional media companies and the audience for it, to the commercial detriment of such companies.


  23.  If the Government wishes to provide funding for media training, then the industry would prefer direct funding for journalism training in traditional and digital skills, for new entrants and for skills development of existing employees, supplied direct to media companies and to the National Council for the Training of Journalists that oversees training for the industry.


  24.  The Government should not create new direct or indirect controls over print and online content, through implementation of the Audiovisual Media Services directive, or under the guise of "media literacy" initiatives, or held out as a condition for over due reform of the media ownership laws or practice of the competition authorities.

  25.  The Government should promote freedom of expression, media freedom, open government, freedom of information and open justice. For example, reform of the UK's over restrictive libel and privacy laws is needed. There should be a reduction in restrictions upon access to and reporting the civil, criminal and coroners' courts, instead of new ones imposed. There is particular need for the immediate reform of conditional fee arrangements and costs regime in publication proceedings that already have a costly and chilling effect on the regional press.

  26.  The Government should implement the "freedom of expression" audit, promised by the Prime Minister and Lord Chancellor, which would entail prior detailed consultation with media organisations, before legislative proposals are put forward that can have adverse and unintended impact upon media freedom.

May 2009

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