Lib Dem peer: 'Local newspapers can become charities'

Leading charity lawyer and Liberal Democrat peer Lord Andrew Phillips is ‘utterly confident’the Charity Commission will allow local newspapers to be registered as charities.

The news comes weeks after a group of journalists, academics and charitable funders announced plans to ask the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to make it easier for charitable trusts and foundations to fund not-for-profit local newspapers.

Gaining charitable status would allow newspapers funding from trusts and foundations, but the Charity Commission does not currently recognise the provision of news as a charitable activity.

Speaking to the charity magazine Third Sector, Lord Phillips said: “I’ve been flogging away for two years with the Charity Commission and got them to admit that a local paper can be a charity.

“Not a paper owned by a commercial organisation that is owned by a charity, but a charity in its own right. It’s very unlawyerly of me to say so, but the battle is won.”

Phillips went on to claim that it was ‘as plain as the nose on your face” local news provided a service to the community – and that ‘the promotion of community life is explicitly a charitable purpose”.

“A newspaper could tap into funding from many sources, including local people, local authorities and also charitable foundations,” he added. “There are thousands of those, many focused on one local area. The prospect of a substantial grant to do this is very real.”

Phillips told Third Sector that although local papers would enjoy much greater aceess to volunteers, a ‘charitable’newspaper would need to be ‘impartial and have an effective scrutinising mechanism to ensure it remained so”.

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