Calls for local papers to get 'community asset' status

The NUJ has backed calls for newspapers to be protected by being given ‘community asset’ status.

The Localism Act 2012 enables local councils to determine ‘community assets’ within their communities, which are then potentially protected from closure.

According to the NUJ, if local newspapers were nominated it could inhibit the ability of owners to close publications overnight and allow more time for consultation on their future.

It could also allow more time for new owners to come forward and bid.

Questioning Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt in Parliament, Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards said: “Welsh newspapers are a treasured part of our heritage, reflecting a mix of local news, views and sports coverage.

‘They are a place where many excellent journalists work and become part of their communities.”

Edwards believes the reason some local newspapers have come under threat is ‘part of a wider shift in readership habits and, sometimes, poor management”.

He added: ‘The Localism Act created a form of ‘community assets’ which could not be sold off without consultation.

‘If local papers could be included in this definition then it would recognise their local importance and prevent owners from closing down newspapers overnight and give time for new owners to come in, perhaps including a takeover by the local community.”

Culture minister Edward Vaizey told Edwards: ‘Local newspapers are private assets and I would be surprised if they could be registered as community assets under the right to buy”.

He did concede, however, that it was the first time he had heard the idea.

Edwards, the MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, said had ‘pushed the Secretary of State to expand the category of ‘community assets’ to include local newspapers and allow the Welsh Government to be able to do this to save any newspapers in Wales which come under threat”, adding: ‘Wales needs to have a blend of media, including broadcast, online and print.”

NUJ deputy general secretary Barry Fitzpatrick supported Edwards’s proposals, agreeing that local newspapers should be seen as community assets.

He said: “It is also the case that newspapers should not be allowed to close overnight so the ownership of the title is unavailable to any alternative media ownership.”

Fitzpatrick said these ‘often iconic titles should be community assets in themselves”, adding: ‘If a paper is closed, companies such as Northcliffe or Trinity Mirror, must not be allowed to lock the title away.

‘I believe that this will become even more important in the digital market where I can see a growth in web based papers serving local communities, who will want to use a name familiar to that community.

‘Some of these titles in themselves will uniquely identify the locality.”

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