This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee
Sustainability of local journalism
Date Published: 25 January 2023
This is the report summary, read the full report.
Local journalism is vital to democracy, enabling people to hold local government and public services to account for decisions that can affect their everyday lives. It can also help to build community cohesion, support local economic activity, and provide an entry route into journalism as a profession.
Yet hundreds of local newspaper titles have closed in the past two decades. News publishers’ traditional print revenues have collapsed as people increasingly read news online. The smaller audiences for local news make shifting to digital business models based on online advertising or subscriptions particularly difficult. Despite this, in this inquiry we have encountered many new local news publishers with a variety of innovative business models, demonstrating that the sector has a sustainable future if it is properly supported to adapt to the new market.
We examine existing support for local journalism, including the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporter Service, initiatives by the big tech platforms, and the revenue from statutory notices. While these forms of support are welcome, they are not enough to stop the decline of local journalism. We call on the Government to fully implement the recommendation of Dame Frances Cairncross’ Review and establish an innovation fund for news. We also recommend that the Government explore ways to make it easier for local news publishers to achieve charitable status, and to encourage more philanthropic funding into the sector.
Our inquiry has found that existing support for local journalism tends to go to the largest, multi-title news publishers. The local news market is highly concentrated, with the largest three publishers owning more than two thirds of all local newspaper titles. Consolidation within the sector has ensured the survival of many titles, but we recommend the Government works to ensure that more support for local journalism reaches smaller publishers, many of whom are driving innovation that could help sustain the sector as a whole.
We examine the journalism provided by local TV and radio, and welcome indications from the Government that provisions concerning both will be included in the forthcoming Media Bill. We recommend the Government expands the Community Radio Fund to enable more community radio stations to conduct journalism. Near the end of our inquiry, the BBC announced proposals for its local radio stations to share more content as part of its wider Digital First strategy. We are concerned that this will diminish the unique localness of the BBC’s current services and urge the Corporation to reconsider these plans.
Finally, we consider the role of Google and Meta. Both companies fund schemes to support news organisations or train journalists. Most local news publishers use these platforms to draw web traffic to their own sites, which underpins their digital revenues. But as others, including the Competition and Markets Authority, have found, the market dominance of these platforms and news publishers’ reliance on them has created an imbalance of power meaning publishers cannot properly negotiate a fair commercial relationship. Forthcoming digital markets legislation and codes of conduct will be vital in addressing this. We call on the Government to avoid the mistakes of other countries and ensure that its new pro-competition regime does not exclude smaller local news publishers.