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NMA Responds To DCMS Committee Report on Sustainability of Local Journalism

25 January 2023

The News Media Association has welcomed some recommendations from the DCMS Committee’s new report ‘Sustainability of Local Journalism’, following their inquiry.

Responding to the DCMS Committee’s new report on the ‘Sustainability of Local Journalism’, NMA chief executive, Owen Meredith said: “We strongly welcome the Committee’s recommendation for government to lay out “clear and explicit provisions” for smaller local publishers to be remunerated fairly under the pro-competition regime in the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill.

“This legislation will be imperative to the sustainability of local journalism in this country, helping to support competition in our digital economy and levelling the playing field between news publishers and tech platforms.

“We were pleased to see support for retaining statutory notices in print local newspapers, which remains a vital source of revenue for local publishers and is a cornerstone of local democracy, enhancing open government and debate in our communities.

“We also share the Committee’s concerns over the BBC’s plans to expand their online local news services, which as the report notes, would only threaten commercial local news publishers who are already facing challenges to building a sustainable business model for digital news. We strongly echo the report’s recommendation that the BBC reconsiders their plans.”

On digital competition, the report said: “We are glad that the government appears to be expediting the introduction of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, which will be vital to redressing the unbalanced relationship between the large digital platforms and local news publishers (among many others). It is important that any code of conduct and collective bargaining mechanisms provided for by the bill do not lead to the exclusion of smaller news publishers.”

Last year, the Chancellor committed to delivering the legislation for the Digital Markets Unit in this Parliamentary session. The government has previously said the Bill would help to address the core recommendations of the Cairncross Review, with the first reading of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill expected in Spring.

The report also acknowledged the importance of statutory notices to local media: “Statutory notices in local newspapers remain an important means of keeping the public informed and a vital revenue stream for many local news publishers.”

On the BBC’s expansion plans, the report recommended: “The BBC’s plans to direct more resources to its online local news services may risk harming commercial news publishers, whose sustainability is already precarious. While we recognise that the latest license fee settlement is difficult for the BBC, we do not consider that the strategy for digital first should come at the expense of local radio and recommend that the Corporation reconsiders its plans.”

The NMA has repeatedly urged the BBC to think again on its plans to expand into the online news space and instead build meaningful partnerships with commercial news publishers to ensure a thriving and plural local news ecosystem.

Find the report in full here.

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