Welsh politicians fear an “avalanche of redundancies and newspaper closures” in regional media unless the UK Government extends the furlough scheme for the industry past October.
The Welsh Parliament’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee said that selectively extending the job retention scheme for the sector should be considered “in recognition of the fact that the majority of news journalism businesses will not be able to return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity for some time to come”.
In its report on the impact of Covid-19 on journalism and local media, the committee said an extension would allow businesses “more time to plan for the future and to avoid major and permanent decisions with potentially severe consequences being made during this crisis”.
The committee also urged media businesses to make use of the scheme while it can instead of making employees redundant.
As well as lobbying the UK Government to extend the scheme, the committee also suggested the Welsh Government should instigate better conversations with news leaders to get an idea of what immediate support could be helpful and explore solutions with them other than redundancies.
More than 2,000 staff across the UK national and regional press were furloughed, according to Press Gazette estimates in mid-April.
Four months later, we reported that more than 2,000 UK-based journalism jobs had already been put at risk because of the Covid-19 crisis.
In Wales, they included about 20 at Reach as part of its UK-wide restructure, 25 in Newport and North Wales at Newsquest, eight at Tindle as it closed its 37-year-old Glamorgan Gem series, and a number at BBC Wales as part of cost-saving measures in the corporation’s nations and regions.
Reach chief operating officer Alan Edmunds told the committee the job retention scheme was key in ensuring the company could keep employees on its payroll while it tried to reorganise the business while Newsquest regional editor Gavin Thompson said it had “saved jobs”.
The committee also called for the UK Government to fill the funding gap of up to £8.5m for BBC Cymru Wales for the next two financial years, saying: “Our public service broadcasters need to be supported and protected, rather than placed under even greater threat.”
The National Union of Journalists welcomed the committee’s recommendations but said it had hoped for a “bolder response”.
The NUJ Welsh Executive Council said: “The NUJ’s evidence made it clear that problems in the Welsh media pre-date Covid-19 and the impact of the virus has been merely to accelerate and amplify these deep-seated structural problems which resulted from media organisations not investing in journalism and Google and Facebook taking news content for free while hoovering up the lion’s share of digital advertising.
“That’s why the committee should have supported the NUJ’s call for a levy on these tech giants to fund quality local news, commitment from the Welsh government to set up an arm’s-length funding organisation to stimulate innovation in the media and a voucher scheme for young people so they can buy subscriptions to newspapers/websites.”
The committee’s other recommendations for the Welsh Government included that:
- It should urge Ofcom to ensure broadcasters are “reminded of their commitment to the four nations” with their UK network news and that they maintain impartiality by reporting them equally, particularly on public health issues;
- It should urgently seek to make the necessary changes so statutory notices can be published by hyperlocal titles and other online providers as the sector has campaigned for over the past several years;
- It should provide financial support for community radio stations and take affirmative action for new entrants to the regional media market more generally.
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