Meredith: Next PM Must Tackle Pressing Media Issues

The next Prime Minister must tackle pressing issues facing the media industry to ensure a sustainable future for journalism, News Media Assocation chief executive Owen Meredith has said. 

In a piece for In Publishing, Owen called for publishers to work together on issues such as the Online Safety Bill and Digital Markets Unit to ensure a “unified voice and a vibrant lobby to ensure these important legislative steps are taken forward.”

Owen outlined key areas of focus for the next government to promote the sustainability of journalism such as introducing special measures to support local journalism and repealing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.  

The Online Safety Bill is a crucial piece of legislation  which aims to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online but has hit some challenges in the detail, “especially as battles rage over free speech,” Owen said.

“An important protection agreed by the House of Commons at report stage is that content from “recognised news publishers” has a special status and the largest social media platforms must not arbitrarily remove it, without due notice and right of appeal for the publisher.”

“These protections are vital for free speech and to ensure consumers have access to trustworthy and reliable sources of news and information online,” Owen said.

He added: “Second, and most pressing, is the need for digital competition legislation to address the flip side of the same digital coin and give the Digital Markets Unit (established in shadow form within the CMA) the statutory powers it needs to do its job.

“Big tech platforms have enjoyed near monopoly power for too long, and report after report has demonstrated how that is damaging for consumers, businesses and publishers alike.

“This new regulator will help level the playing field between publishers and platforms and deliver value (and cash) back to businesses and consumers. As we face an autumn of sustained inflationary pressure, an early win for the new prime minister would be to bring this legislation forward, deliver a more competitive digital economy and put money back in voters’ pockets.

Owen said there was a “real and present threat” facing the future sustainability of local publishers who invest heavily in journalists who scrutinise local councils, report on court proceedings and hold the powerful to account; while bringing communities together and championing their locality.

“Government has a role to play in supporting local news media to transition to truly sustainable digital-first business models,” Owen said.  

“At the NMA, we’ve set out our ideas of how this could be done, most recently to the DCMS Select Committee inquiry on the sustainability of local journalism: including tax credits for employing journalists; more effective deployment of government advertising spend; and extending business rate relief.”