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Shrinking ad revenues undermining local and investigative journalism, experts warn

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Freedom of expression experts have claimed dwindling advertising revenues are undermining local and investigative journalism in a joint declaration published today.

Representatives from four international organisations, including the United Nations, said “threats to media diversity and independence” were resulting from squeezed ad revenues and media ownership being concentrated in a few hands.

They also said they were “alarmed by the ongoing violence against and prosecution of journalists” for doing their jobs.

Free expression rapporteurs and representatives of the UN, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Organisation of American States (pictured) made the statements in their 20th annual declaration on freedom of expression.

The document, unveiled at the Defend Media Freedom conference in London this morning, said: “[We express] concern about the ongoing and deepening threats to media diversity and independence as a result, among other things, of a significant reduction in advertising revenues for legacy media, undermining news production and especially local and investigative journalism; increased concentration of media ownership; political control over and insufficient financial allocations to public service media; a failure to develop community broadcasting sufficiently; and ongoing attempts to exert control over the private media, including through regulation.”

The declaration pushed for states to “address the major economic challenges” faced by independent and local outlets by “regulating to mitigate the negative impacts caused by the dominance of online advertising companies”.

Its call for regulation of the digital ad market to protect media plurality comes a week after the UK competition watchdog launched a study into the dominance of Facebook and Google in the sector.

The Competition and Markets Authority will look at whether the tech giants have “distorted” the market and look at “the sources of any market power, the way they collect and use personal data, and whether competition in digital advertising is producing good outcomes for consumers”.

An forecast released by advertising agency Group M last month said ad spend on newspapers and magazines would account for less than 10 per cent of the UK market this year, with Facebook and Google taking a larger slice of digital ad revenue.

Press Gazette launched its Duopoly campaign in April 2017 urging the two tech giants to cut a fairer deal with the news industry.

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