Whittingdale: My Absolute Priority Is To Support Local News Outlets

John Whittingdale has said it remains his “absolute priority to do all I can to support local news outlets” which are “the cornerstone of a rich and varied media landscape.”

 In an op ed for Journalism Matters, published by local and national newspapers today, the Minister of State for Media and Data said the Government recognised the vital role journalism has played during the coronavirus pandemic.  

He said:  “Newspapers don’t just keep people up-to-date with stories affecting the lives of their readers, they also hold the powerful to account and play a vital role as trusted, reliable sources of information particularly in times of crisis.

“These efforts deserve to be recognised and there isn’t a better way to do so than through the News Media Association’s annual Journalism Matters Campaign. 

“This initiative shines a spotlight on the importance of journalism to society and asks people to share their views on why journalism matters to them. 

“As part of the campaign, the NMA is running a public vote where people can nominate their favourite national and local newspaper campaigns from the ‘Making a Difference’ showcase. This includes the likes of the Daily Mail’s campaign to support families affected by dementia, and the Express and Star’s fundraising drive to save a local hospice. 

“I’d encourage people to vote to help celebrate these powerful campaigns that help drive positive change. 

“The Government recognises how much journalism matters to our country and democracy. This week we’ve published new research commissioned as part of our ongoing commitment to support the sustainability of the local and regional press.

“It shows why local news matters: voter turnout in local elections is higher in those areas with a greater local newspaper circulation, which shows the huge value of reliable sources of local information.  

“With increased misinformation on social media, trusted journalism has been a fundamental source of clarity throughout the pandemic. More than 85 per cent of adults turned to traditional media as a source of information about coronavirus.  And news organisations are more than four times as trusted for news and information about coronavirus than social media.

“Moreover, throughout lockdown, local and regional papers played a key role helping coordinate volunteering and neighbourhood efforts to make sure the vulnerable got the help they needed. 

“It’s why the Government has weighed in to support newspapers through the pandemic.

“At the start of lockdown we designated journalists and newspaper employees as key workers so they could keep the show on the road and continue their public service.  

“We worked with the industry to stop ad-blocking software from preventing advertisements appearing next to Covid-related content. 

“We fast-tracked the removal of VAT from digital newspapers to boost sales and provided local authorities with guidance to help newspaper deliveries continue.  

“We also launched a major advertising campaign to get public health information across to the public which also provided a much-needed source of revenue for the press industry. 

“The ‘All In, All Together’ campaign saw £35 million for advertising distributed across approximately 600 titles, with more than 60 per cent of the funding, some £21million, going to local and regional titles.

“As we look to navigate our way through and recover from this crisis, newspapers will continue to fulfill their crucial role taking the pulse of the nation, reporting from the frontline and acting as the glue that binds our communities together. 

“To make sure this continues I co-chaired the first meeting of the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists in the summer. This brings together representatives from government, journalism and policing to develop a plan to ensure the safety of journalists and to protect them from harm and threats of violence. The UK is a bastion of free speech and it must continue to be so. 

“As the Minister with responsibility for the media it remains my absolute priority to do all I can to support local news outlets. They are the cornerstone of a rich and varied media landscape respected for its tenacity around the world.  

“We are privileged to have so many high quality outlets and I urge people to recognise and support all that’s best about this valuable industry by making sure they back – and buy – their local papers.”