Government must act to save independent news

95 percent of independent news providers have received zero support from Government since lockdown started

It has been six weeks since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced lockdown measures and still there has been no package of support for your community newspaper.

While £35m has been allocated to the ‘newspaper industry’ in order to save lives by providing essential information to the public, and support the press, not one penny has reached South Leeds Life.

Despite the tireless efforts of many individuals and organisations passionate about the future of independent news, the government has failed to act.

In a recent survey carried out by the Independent Community News Network (ICNN), 95 percent of organisations that responded said they had not benefitted from any of the eleven Government measures outlined by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Thirty-nine news providers responded to the survey.

This includes the Coronavirus Job Retention (Furlough) Scheme; the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme; Government-backed loans; the deferral of the next quarter of VAT; the scrapping of VAT on E-publications; and the £35m public information campaign: ‘All-in, All together’.

Only five per cent of respondents said they had benefitted from the Government’s furlough scheme and Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.

Just three per cent of respondents said they had been able to benefit from the Government’s grant scheme, keyword block-listing, VAT deferral, and local authority guidance measures.

And none had been able to access support through the Government’s public information advertising campaign despite the best efforts of many in the sector.

In short, nearly all independent news organisations surveyed, including South Leeds Life said they had received no help from the government whatsoever.

This is despite the fact that in a letter to Hilary Benn MP for Leeds Central, Minister of State for Media and Data John Whittingdale wrote:

“The government recognises the vital role of the news publishing sector in ensuring the provision of reliable, high-quality information.

“The need for people to be able to access independent, verifiable news and information from local publications … is now more essential than ever.”

In most cases, independent publications are run by individuals who are not self-employed, and so cannot furlough ourselves and continue to work or access income support.

Smaller organisations tend not to have offices or premises, but work from home or in shared office spaces and none of us earn enough money to benefit from VAT deferral or a zero-rate across e-publications.

Yet the combined reach of the independent news sector in the UK is vast with several hundred professional publications reaching more than 15m people online every month; and with a collective print run of over 426,000.

Independent news providers include local, hyperlocal and regional newspapers and websites, alongside non-profit investigative journalism.

The sector reaches people who can’t be reached by other publications, including local people living in ‘news deserts’, BAME groups and younger people.

We are small but professional organisations, with turnover below £2m and a commitment to high standards of journalism.

We are the true frontline key workers in this industry keeping communities afloat with genuine, accurate and important information during this pandemic.

Sadly, we are also the ones most at risk from the current crisis. The impact of COVID-19 on South Leeds Life could have a catastrophic impact on public health in South Leeds and across the UK.

Research conducted by the Public Interest News Foundation (PINF) in March reported that 75 per cent of independent news providers are at risk of closure due to coronavirus. Ninety-four per cent believed the pandemic would will have a ‘negative’ or ‘very negative impact on their organisation. And 65% do not believe that the Government recognises the role of journalism in responding to the crisis or is doing enough to help the sector right now.

If South Leeds Life is unable to continue reporting, due to lack of Government intervention, our community will lose access to its only source of real, local news and information.

The real cost and suffering of this decision will undoubtedly be you, the public.

Help us to #Saveindependentnews. Please share this article on social media and tag Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove MP @michaelgove.