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August 12, 2010

Media Trust reignites tax breaks for local newspapers debate

By Patrick

How to save the local news industry? With subsidies from local councils and tax breaks for investment, according to the Media Trust. The charity argues in a report released today, Meeting the News Needs of Local Communities (pdf link),  that genuine local news reporting should be sustained through subsidies from local government advertising income. And the report calls for a re-think of the tax regime governing media organisations, to encourage investment in local reporting.

The report, led by Professor Natalie Fenton at the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre and commissioned by the Media Trust, says that funding should go to new journalistic start-ups, which could fill the gaps left by decimated or closed-down local papers:

There is a crucial role for foundation grants and local government subsidies for genuinely local news-hub start-ups… Local government subsidies could come from local government advertising – guaranteeing that their local information campaigns reach their target audience while supporting and nurturing local media.

The report make an impassioned case for the local newspaper as the best form of local news: researchers found that “nothing beats the old-fashioned local paper for ease, for accessibility, for relevance, and for social impact”. The report outlines a vision of news organisations operating within communities in public places such a community centres or pubs, in order to reconnect with readers.

What of the growth of online “hyperlocal” news start-ups that are sprouting up across the country? They don’t fulfil the same role, the report argues. “Even in those communities with local and hyper-local websites, it’s the local paper that they want – strong, vibrant, quality local newspapers reflecting the news that concerns their neighbourhoods and communities,” it says.

Unlikely tax break hopes

Some commentators, such as Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, have also called for government funding to support public service journalism. But are tax breaks for local media a possibility in these hard-up times of austerity measures, private and public sector cuts? Labour planned to introduce multimedia independently funded news consortia, which would replace ITV’s local news broadcasts on Channel 3 from 2012 and be mostly funded by leftover BBC licence fee money.

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But Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt killed off the IFNC project – as he had long promised to – in one of his first major moves in the job.

So what chance this coalition administration will look favourably on more hand-outs to local media?

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