Danny Cammiade: We Must Protect Local News — It’s Vital For Democracy

It is now time to act to ensure a bright future for journalism, News Media Association vice chair and Tindle Newspapers chief executive Danny Cammiade has said in an article for the Times today.

“Local journalism is vital and our readers know this. With an audience of 40 million adults in print and digital every month, local news brands continue to maintain huge reach across Britain.

“They are personal in a way no other news medium is: campaigning on issues close to people’s hearts and pushing for meaningful change, fostering open democracy and debate. Local journalists devote hours to attending court hearings and local authority meetings to scrutinise, report and expose wrongdoing. They care about and participate in the communities they serve, covering sports and collaborating with businesses.

“Research shows that 81 per cent of Britons trust their local news media, a figure that has increased in recent years. Yet the industry faces unprecedented challenges. It has never been more urgent for local journalism to receive the support it needs to innovate and flourish. Without it, we risk social media — where fake news can go unchecked and unchallenged — becoming a primary source for local news.

“With the dominance of the tech giants, local publishers’ transition to a digital-first business model is constantly challenged. News content is worth an estimated £1 billion to Google and Facebook, yet publishers do not receive fair remuneration. Legislation to level the playing field is coming, but the process needs to be sped up. The Digital Markets Unit exists in shadow form but does not have the statutory powers it needs.

“Last year, government spent only two per cent of its advertising budget in local media, compared to 17 per cent with Google and Facebook. Diverting a bigger proportion of its advertising spend into local media would help it to connect with communities.

“Expanding the business rates relief scheme, extending creative industries tax reliefs to local publishers and introducing a tax credit system for advertisers are targeted, short-term interventions government can implement.

“The BBC’s plans to expand its online local news services, moving into a space already well served by commercial providers, threaten local publishers and put at risk the diversity of choice that consumers enjoy. Yet despite the challenges, our industry is innovating. One example is the launch of the Public Notice Portal, which will extend the reach of public notices through local media’s online platforms.

“Local news brands are part of our communities and an essential pillar of democracy. Let us act now to ensure a prosperous future for local journalism.”