Lichfield and Burntwood’s MP has called for local journalism outlets to be supported by the Government.
Many traditional media outlets have seen advertising disappear during the coronavirus lockdown, with the Lichfield Mercury pausing publication altogether.
Now Michael Fabricant has joined Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael to call for more to be done to ensure outlets do not permanently disappear because of the impact COVID-19 has on them.
“With advertising budgets dropping through the floor, I am arguing hard with the cabinet to support local newspapers and news websites.
“The Lichfield Mercury has already suspended newspaper production as have many other local newspapers across the West Midlands and the rest of the UK.
“It’s time urgently to support local newspapers and news websites by encouraging the Government to fund local and independent media through an increased share of public health advertising spending.
“Independent research shows that local press are some of the most trusted sources of news for our communities – far more so than national papers and broadcast media – and we must support them in this challenging time.
“They are vital to our efforts to respond and recover from COVID-19.
“So Alistair and I along with other MPs have written to both the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, and the Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, urging them to divert advertising spend to local media, such as my local media the Lichfield Mercury, Lichfield Live, and region wide newspapers like the Express & Star.”Michael Fabricant MP
“The Government has supported some titles financially while others are given nothing”
The Government has already committed to an advertising campaign with print publications.
But the Independent Community News Network which represents publishers outside of the large newspaper groups, is calling for support to be spread more evenly across the entire local journalism network.
Emma Meese, director of the ICNN, said:
“At a time when people need their local press more than ever, the Government has supported some titles financially while others are given nothing.
“The real cost and suffering of this decision will undoubtedly be the public.
“People are looking to cut through the noise and access trusted and verified local information, that will help keep them safe and alive.
“The UK Government has a duty to put that information in places where the public will see it, not just where they have always put it.”Emma Meese, Independent Community News Network
The publishers of Lichfield Live have also written to Mr Fabricant to urge him to help ensure a level playing field for all publishers if any support is forthcoming – particularly those independent titles who have continued to produce content throughout the crisis at levels similar to – or above – usual levels.
The Conservative MP said:
“I have said to Matt Hancock and Oliver Dowden that we need to get a fair share of Government advertising spend for local and independent press and websites, to reflect both their importance in our communities and their financial needs.
“And I hope it won’t be too long before the Lichfield Mercury is again available as a newspaper edition.”Michael Fabricant MP
The letter sent to Mr Fabricant by Lichfield Live is below:
While the UK Government has, quite rightly, recognised the role of journalism at a time when access to information is as vital as ever, it is disappointing to see that much of the focus of this – and previous schemes – has been weighted so heavily towards the traditional print press.
While it is quite right that jobs should be saved and support given to industries, it is also important to recognise and support the efforts of others who are seeking to ensure journalism provision is delivered in communities.
The advertising campaign launched recently is a prime example of where the playing field has been far from level and funding has been funnelled into large press groups rather than the growing arena of hyperlocal and independent publishing.
As you will be aware, we are a team of volunteers in your constituency who produce Lichfield Live and have done so for more than a decade. You will also be aware that with the Lichfield Mercury pausing publication due to the coronavirus pandemic, the role of Lichfield Live is now as important as ever.
We have already agreed to allow Lichfield Talking News to utilise our content in order to ensure its services can continue to get local news and information out to visually impaired members of the community and have moved into other areas to highlight community activities.
The importance of our role in the current climate is evidenced by a hugely significant rise in visitors and website traffic year-on-year.
However, while the Welsh Government has sought to provide £200,000 to hyperlocal publishers, sites like Lichfield Live remain unable to access any of the support being offered to print publications. Indeed, a letter on the issue from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is specifically titled ‘Support for newspapers during COVID-19’.
At a time when there is an expectation that other services such as education can be delivered online, why is it that we seem to accept that news can only be of value when delivered through a print publication? This is particularly frustrating when many local publications have falling circulations and patchy distribution at best.
Lichfield Live – like other publishers of a similar ilk – does not expect to be given preferential treatment or free money. But it does expect to be given a fair crack of the whip when it comes to support for the journalism industry.
At a time when the Lichfield Mercury is not publishing, we are unable to access the money paid by local councils for the publication of statutory notices. We have been told by one local authority that these could not be made through us as they need to be in print in order to follow the rules regarding such advertisements – even if that print publication does not cover Lichfield or Burntwood.
How can this be right, either for us as a publisher or the residents who should be accessing these notices?
We would appreciate you taking up this issue with the relevant department(s) to highlight the value of this growing sector of the media which is continually being forgotten and overlooked, while large news organisations – who have removed themselves from local communities and reduced the levels of journalism they produce – are supported by yet more public money.Lichfield Live’s letter to Michael Fabricant MP