The National Union of Journalists has warned that scrapping competition rules governing regional press mergers would lead to a “spiral of decline”.
The union’s submission to the Office of Fair Trading review on the subject is in direct opposition to the views of the seven biggest regional newspaper publishers – as represented by the Local Media Alliance, which lodged its response this week.
The LMA submitted a paper to the OFT this week saying there was “overwhelming evidence” citing evidence from 5,000 local newspaper advertiser.
The union states in its submission: “The inevitable fact is there is no longer the prospect of sufficient returns from local newspapers (and their websites) to sustain a model of ownership that requires a quarter or more of their revenues to be siphoned off to holding companies and their shareholders.
“If they were now to be permitted to consolidate their control of substantial areas of the country there would simply be a continued contraction of the industry – more than 50 papers were closed in the second half of last year – with fewer titles, even fewer journalists and a rapid fall in the amount and quality of news. It would be to accelerate a spiral of decline.”
The NUJ argues that the regional newspaper industry needs ‘new capital and new managers”.
It says: “New companies would enhance competition in the sector, both through new launches and by taking over existing publications, buying individual titles or series on favourable terms from the present publishers. The latter course should be encouraged by such regulatory means as can be found.”
The union wants all takeovers sanctioned by the OFT and Competition Commission to impose conditions such as “commitments to invest in newsgathering, with a specified proportion of profits going into editorial resources and requirements over staffing ratios. There should be undertakings to retain titles in circulation, with locally and originally produced content. Companies could be required to make a convincing economic case when looking to cut jobs.”