The chief executive of Newsquest has called on the Government to provide “proper help now” to local journalism, adding: “Time is running out.”
Henry Faure Walker said the Government must “get out of the slow lane” and be bold in its support for local journalism, including the BBC-funded local democracy reporter service.
In a speech at a Westminster Media Forum event on the future of news on Tuesday, Faure Walker said: “It’s great that the Government has recognised something needs to be done, but they commissioned the Cairncross report over 18 months ago, and frankly local journalism needs proper help now.”
Dame Frances Cairncross was tasked with looking at the sustainability of high-quality journalism in the face of a rapidly changing marketplace for news publishers, and her report set out nine recommendations.
The Competition and Markets Authority opened an investigation into the dominance of Facebook and Google in the digital advertising market in response.
The Government had not published its full response to the review before Parliament broke up for the snap general election, but it did reveal plans to establish a £2m pilot Future News Fund to help local news publishers find innovative ways of providing sustainable public interest journalism.
But Faure Walker said this week that the one-off £2m fund was “a little light by comparison” with other countries’ efforts.
He pointed to Canada’s £70m annual fund which will support local journalism over the next five years, and a six-year fund in Denmark that provided £44m in 2018.
“It certainly looks light compared to the £1bntax credits that go to other creative industries,” Faure Walker said. “Why does a local museum get support but not local journalism?”
He also urged the Government to provide influence and funding to help the BBC in its aim to expand its Local News Partnerships which funds 150 local democracy reporters across the UK. Cairncross also recommended the expansion.
The expansion of the scheme, which Faure Walker said was “proving to be a really successful model”, is entirely dependent on the BBC finding external sources of funding.
“I don’t believe in the need for long term support nor am I suggesting [the Government] support publishing companies,” Faure Walker said.
“I am saying they should support local journalism and local public interest reporters for the next three to five years and work with the industry in delivering this.
“Local journalism is a huge public good, and DCMS and Government need to get out of the slow lane and be bold — otherwise our local communities, the fabric of our society, will deteriorate just at a time when we as a nation need them most.”
According to the News Media Association, Cairncross acknowledged at the same event that the Government had been slow to act on her report, but added she was hopeful the next Government would move it forward.