UK government to review future of British newspapers

Theresa May warns that closure of local and national titles a danger to democracy

“Good-quality journalism ... is a huge force for good.” Theresa May gives a speech in Manchester on the future of newspapers, on Tuesday.  Photograph: Paul Ellis/Reuters

“Good-quality journalism ... is a huge force for good.” Theresa May gives a speech in Manchester on the future of newspapers, on Tuesday. Photograph: Paul Ellis/Reuters

 

Theresa May has announced a review of the future of the British newspaper industry, warning that the closure of hundreds of titles, particularly local papers, was a danger to democracy. The review will look at sustainable business models for quality journalism at a local, regional and national level.

Speaking in Manchester, Ms May said that, when trusted news sources decline, society can become vulnerable to unreliable or untrustworthy news.

“Good-quality journalism provides us with the information and analysis we need to inform our viewpoints and conduct a genuine discussion. It is a huge force for good. But in recent years – especially in local journalism – we’ve seen falling circulations, a hollowing-out of local newsrooms, and fears for the future sustainability of high-quality journalism,” she said.

Digital advertising revenue

The review will consider if news content producers are receiving their fair share of digital advertising revenue and how their material is used and distributed by digital behemoths such as Facebook and Google. It will look at the threat to quality news posed by clickbait and at what role, if any, government should play in supporting the news industry.

Culture secretary Matt Hancock said the review was needed because of the importance of a free press to the culture of democracy.

“Robust high-quality journalism is important for public debate and scrutiny – but as print circulations decline and more readers move online, the press faces an uncertain future. This review will look at the sustainability of the national, regional and local press, how content creators are appropriately rewarded for their online creations, and ensure that the UK has a vibrant, independent and plural free press as one of the cornerstones of our public debate,” he said.

Hold to account

The culture department said that two out of three local councils in Britain no longer had a local newspaper to report on their activities and to hold them to account. It cited a report by Deloitte that highlighted the difficulties faced by newspapers as readers move online, where average annual revenue per digital media user is estimated at about £15, compared to £124 per print media user.

David Dinsmore, chairman of the News Media Association, which lobbies on behalf of the newspaper industry, welcomed the review.

“Viable business models must be found that ensure a wide variety of media are able to have a long and healthy future. Through digital platforms, news content is more widely consumed than ever before but the revenues to sustain the investment in that quality content are challenged. This review on a sustainable future is very welcome,” he said.