As Press Gazette’s analysis shows, more than 2,000 staff across the UK’s national and regional press have temporarily lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, with media analyst Douglas McCabe predicting 5,000 print journalists in the UK could lose their jobs without state subsidies.
Here at the NUJ, we are dealing with the human fallout of this. Our officials are working non-stop, trying to negotiate with employers and listening to the calls and concerns of members.
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Similarly, other journalists, broadcasters, publishers, photographers and PR workers have all been affected. Many of our freelance members are in real trouble, without any work for the foreseeable future and falling through the cracks of government rescue schemes.
I have been taking part in weekly meetings with the Secretary of State and minister at the DCMS and other industry representatives, looking at ways to deal with the crisis. Because of course the newspaper industry, particularly local papers, was ailing before the virus dealt its deadly blow.
And at a time when staff welfare and journalistic service should come first, some companies are playing fast and loose with their obligations to consult with the NUJ over the impact to staff and editorial content.
A cynical “never waste a crisis” approach cannot be allowed to further compromise already stretched standards and resources.
News Recovery Plan
With the wasted opportunity of the Cairncross Review behind us, it was imperative that the union stepped up to launch a News Recovery Plan for the UK and Ireland, to sustain the press and media through the Covid-19 crisis but also to reinvigorate the industry into a reimagined future.
It sets out a bold set of measures and interventions to support and protect jobs and quality journalism and looks to how the industry shapes up when we come through the other end of the pandemic.
Central to the recovery plan is an urgent windfall tax of six per cent on the tech giants, achieved through tripling the new Digital Services Tax, ensuring that companies which suck up editorial content make a much-needed contribution to its production and survival.
There need to be tax credits and interest free loans to support journalist jobs for frontline reporters covering the Covid-19 crisis, and further funding by NESTA’s Future News Fund of innovative, public interest journalism, and a similar scheme in Ireland.
Free vouchers for online or print subscriptions should be issued to all 18 and 19-year-olds and tax credits given for households with subscriptions.
We are also being vigilant that the crisis is not being used to restrict journalists’ freedoms and access to information, or preventing reporters and photographers from getting about to do their jobs.
Journalists are not seeking handouts or compensation for the industry – we are looking for investment in our future to transform the media industry, make it fit for our collective purpose and truly serve the public good.
Call to establish Journalism Foundation
Looking longer term, I am calling for the establishment of a government-funded Journalism Foundation to invest in local news and innovative journalistic projects. I want to see local newspapers – like many pubs – be conferred with “asset of community value” status ensuring that titles are preserved for potential community ownership.
There must be independent sustainable funding of public service broadcasting that protects its universality and prevents government interference, a nationwide media literacy strategy to tackle disinformation and fake news and, importantly, reform of media ownership rules, with a strengthened public interest test.
In supporting existing parts of the press, we also need to create greater diversity, including meaningful investment to help new media models get off the ground and measures to increase quality editorial content and resources.
We need to boost trust in journalism and create the environment in which quality ethical reporting is strongly rooted in line with the NUJ’s Code of Conduct.
News should be provided by a combination of public interest broadcasting, commercial news platforms and community media.
The spread of provision would allow each form of media to provide a check against the others. The provision itself would be transparent and porous, encouraging all concerned citizens to understand and participate in reporting where they are interested to do so.
The present crisis has shown just how vital it is to have a news media providing accurate information, how desperate people are for trustworthy content and how essential it is that the government and authorities are held to account. We need to build a reimagined news sector to continue to do this.
Show your support for the NUJ’s News Recovery Plan by signing our petition.
Michelle Stanistreet (pictured) is the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists.