NMA: New Support Measures Required As New Lockdowns Intensify Pressure On Publishers

New support measures to support independent journalism in the UK are urgently required as the new national lockdowns “further intensify and prolong” the severe pressure on the news media industry, the News Media Association has said to the Chancellor.

In a letter to Rishi Sunak this week, the NMA outlined three measures that could be implemented immediately or as part of the March budget to support journalism which has played a vital role in keeping the public informed during the coronavirus crisis.  

During the pandemic, publishers have experienced declines in ad revenue of up to 80 per cent as a result of the economic slowdown and around 50 local titles have been suspended or closed, with more losses feared as the new lockdowns take effect.

The first support measure called for by the NMA is targeted support for public interest journalism such as a refundable tax relief system whereby bona fide, recognised publishers are able to claim back a proportion of salaries of existing qualifying reporters deployed to cover public interest journalism and to incentivise and fund the employment of new reporters specifically for the areas outlined above.

In the UK, the creative industries benefit from the creative industry tax relief which includes support for local orchestras, theatre, art galleries etc. This form of relief could be adapted in the way set out above and extended to news organisations which employ journalists for specific purposes, the NMA said, pointing to examples of this type of support in other countries such as Canada.

Secondly, the existing business rates relief scheme for local publishers could be expanded providing a “quick and straightforward way” to provide immediate assistance to local publishers who are most at risk from the new lockdowns.

Under the proposal the existing scheme, which provides a helpful but modest discount of £1,500 on business rates for office space occupied by local newspapers, would be increased to 80 per cent in line with other relief programmes and the scope of the hereditament would be expanded.  

“We strongly recommend that these measures be implemented immediately to help local publishers mitigate the damaging effects of the new national lockdowns on their businesses,” the NMA said.

Thirdly, a tax credit for advertisers who place their advertising with specific UK-based categories of media, – such as radio, television, newspapers and magazines – which invest in valuable UK content such as journalism could be introduced.

The advertising tax credit would not only help these media companies, it would also help British businesses, especially small businesses, get back on their feet, and stimulate consumer demand and wellbeing, the NMA added.

“The news media industry, which has provided so much benefit to the public during the coronavirus pandemic through the provision of trusted journalism, is facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions,” the NMA said.  “We believe that direct and targeted interventions by Government, such as the ones outlined above, are necessary to safeguard the future of independent journalism in this country.”