News Agencies condemn PA council reporting scheme

The National Association of Press Agencies wants talks with the new coalition government to seek assurance that Press Association’s proposal to establish not for profit public service reporting agencies won’t involve public funding.

The association that represents the UK’s leading news agencies held talks last year with the Department of Culture Media and Sport and with then Conservative shadow culture spokesman Jeremy Hunt MP over PA’s plans.

NAPA said today it would seek further talks with Hunt, now culture secretary, over ‘anti-competitive’moves in the local newspaper market.

In July, PA announced its intention to run a pilot scheme where a dedicated team of journalists would solely report court cases and council meetings previously covered by local and regional newspapers. This content would then be made freely available to media outlets.

At that time, PA suggested a potential source of funding for any post pilot national rollout could come from the £130m of BBC licence currently allocated towards digital TV switch-over.

Press Association training director, Tony Johnston, told Press Gazette’s Local Heroes conference earlier this month that the agency expected to soon announce independent funding arrangements for one of two planned public service reporting pilot schemes.

Chris Johnson, NAPA treasurer, said: “This [introduction of PA’s public service] would be the first step on a slippery slope to further demands for the BBC licence fee cash to be used to subsidise all kinds of reporting deemed “too expensive” for commercial companies.

“Many NAPA members find that with the retrenchment of local newspapers they are increasingly being called-upon to provide grass-roots content of all kinds.

“We can see no justification for replacing staff that have been made redundant with an expanded network of PA staff subsidised with public money.

“It would tend towards creating a dangerous reporting monoculture – some kind of UK version of Pravda – and a phenomenon that is quite alien to the British news industry and a free press.

“NAPA will raise its concerns with Jeremy Hunt and will encourage the DCMS to examine the potentially damaging and distorting effects this plan would have on an already a fragile market.

“We believe that it would distort the market and serious discourage new entrants from setting-up in business. It would be anti-competitive, and should be resisted at all costs.”

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