Conservatives want to help newspapers consolidate

The Conservatives today announced plans to ‘sweep away’ media merger rules in an effort to save local newspapers – the exact opposite of what the National Union of Journalists has called for.

Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said the party would review “bureaucratic regulations” on media ownership.

This, he said, would allow local newspapers to consolidate – both with each other, and with television, radio, and online.

But yesterday, the NUJ told MPs more regulation, not less, was needed.

NUJ president James Doherty said consolidation would mean more job losses, and more “news factories producing titles 80 or 100 miles away”.

Hunt said his plans would encourage newspapers to launch ultra-local television services.

“The current rules were established in a pre-digital era,” he said.

“It is now time to allow new industry models to emerge that will encourage investment not just in local papers, but local online services, and new local TV companies.”

Party leader David Cameron said: “Local papers are closing, and staff are being made redundant in the face of falling advertising revenue and competition from the internet and local authority freesheets.

“That’s why today the Conservative Party is going to announce plans to sweep away the bureaucratic rules that mean that a rigid law decides who owns what bits of the media in local communities.

“This will give local newspapers more freedom to adapt to the digital world and to develop new business models for the 21st century.”

The NUJ said the Tories’ proposals would do nothing to solve the problems facing quality journalism.

General secretary Jeremy Dear said: “This looks like a policy that has been rushed out in response to calls by media owners who are simply looking to make even more cuts to our already limping local press.

“These plans fail to deal with the problems facing local journalists. Consolidation of media ownership has meant office and title closures; it has meant journalists taken out of their communities, fundamentally undermining their ability to do their jobs well.

“The Conservative response to these problems seems to be more of the same, which will do nothing to help quality journalism.

“Where are the big ideas? We need our politicians to come up with proposals for how local journalism can be saved – not surrendered to big business interests who have taken multi-million pound profits whilst cutting back on quality journalism.

“The Conservatives might see media regulation as burdensome red tape – but it is what ensures people have access to varied media and different voices.

“To throw that protection away in response to business demands without any plans to secure improvement in journalism is foolhardy and an insult to our local communities.”

Today, it was announced a cross-party group of MPs have launched an inquiry into the future of local and regional journalism.

The culture, media and sport select committee has invited comments from interested parties ahead of a series of face-to-face meetings later this year.

Yesterday, the Newspaper Society and the Society of Editors met culture secretary Andy Burnham. NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear is meeting him today.

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