The MP for Bedford and Kempston, Mohammad Yasin, questioned the Minister of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, John Wittingdale, today about government support for the independent news sector.
The economic impact of the coronavirus is starting to destroy parts of the already-struggling media industry.
JPI Media, which owns titles including the Bedford Times and Citizen, told staff last month that all its free newspapers delivered door-to-door would temporarily stop printing due to the logistical challenges of arranging delivery, alongside the catastrophic collapse in the local advertising market.
In response, the Government announced an advertising wraparound for many national and local newspapers as a way of replacing lost advertising revenue.
But this help excluded many local community and independent newspapers and radio stations which need the support much more than the large newspaper groups.
The Government has not explained why the support for local newspapers concentrated on national titles and national groups, to the exclusion of independent and community newspapers.
The MP for Bedford and Kempston, Mohammad Yasin said, “Local newspapers and radio are more important now than ever, providing invaluable information at the heart of the communities they serve.
“Yet media giants continue to generate immense profits by leveraging local news stories – leading to the closure of more than 300 local newspapers in the past decade and more than half of all parliamentary constituencies left without a dedicated daily local newspaper.
“The government has made clear that it considers reporters and print newspaper distribution staff as key workers during the crisis, due to the importance of getting accurate information to people’s homes.
“So, they must take urgent action to provide sustainable long-term funding to support local and radio news outlets including the Bedford Independent beyond the current crisis.
“I asked the Minister to meet with the independent sector representative body the Independent Community News Network (ICNN) to agree an advertising deal for local, independent press.
“I am pleased Mr Whittingdale agreed that publishers like our own Bedford Independent are providing a vital service to their communities across the UK, and said he was in talks with the industry.
“Profit margins in local news are slim at the best of times, so I hope financial support will come soon, before it’s too late”
Jonathan Heawood, Executive Director of the Public Interest News Foundation, said, “The COVID-19 crisis is affecting all of our lives, and we urgently need high-quality independent publications like the Bedford Independent to give a voice to communities up and down the UK.
“Now it’s time for the Government to repay their dedication with the financial support that the sector needs.”