Sustainability of local journalism

  • 17 May 2023

The Culture, Media and Sport committee has published the UK government’s response to its report on the sustainability of local journalism.

The NUJ submitted a response to the DCMS evidence call in March last year, referencing the union’s News Recovery Plan with detailed measures to allow for thriving, sustainable journalism. This included calls for better diversity and plurality, a digital levy on tech giants, and media literacy initiatives.  

Government’s response details views on the eight recommendations outlined by the CMS, including support for the Local Democracy Reporters Scheme in place until at least 2027 but without a commitment to widening scope of the service, as it states ‘operational decisions’ fall with the BBC.  

The CMS had asked government to conduct an audit of public money that supports the local news sector, followed by an analysis on whether money could be more fairly distributed and used to promote innovation. In its response, government noted money was distributed according to considerations including reach, effectiveness of public information campaigns and transparency and accountability in local government decision making. It declined analysis of expenditure stating such action would be inappropriate. A Cabinet Office pilot with a network of over 50 small online local news outlets is underway, to determine their capability and suitability for government advertisement. 

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: 

“The NUJ welcomes publication of government’s response but repeats concerns made to the CMS in its evidence call, about the long-term sustainability of local journalism if urgent investment is not provided for smaller, local news outlets.

“Local journalism lies at the heart of communities who value its relevant, insightful content. For several years, we have called for measures allowing publishers to receive fair reward for the editorial content published by large platforms with little gain for those who produce it. The NUJ will monitor the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill as it progresses through parliamentary stages and urges government to ensure lobbying from tech giants aiming to scupper plans in to maintain the huge imbalance, does not prevent the work of the DMU in holding firms accountable.” 

Damian Green MP, acting Chair of the CMS Committee, said:

"The downward spiral of quality and coverage of news experienced by our communities will persist without a step change in support for local news providers. The Government must use the Digital Markets Bill and other forthcoming media legislation to safeguard the future of publishers and protect against the damage a lack of local news can do to society.” 

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