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Journalism Matters: Why trusted journalism in papers like the Cambridge Independent is more important than ever before

The annual Journalism Matters campaign highlights the vital role that trusted news media journalism plays in our democratic society. Culture secretary Michelle Donelan and Owen Meredith, chief executive of the News Media Association, explain why the Cambridge Independent newspaper and website are so vital to our democracy.

Culture secretary Michelle Donelan
Culture secretary Michelle Donelan

Journalism matters. That is not just a slogan; it is a fundamental feature of our democracy. Without publications like the one you are reading right now, we would not be able to hold the people in power to account - including, of course, politicians like me.

Like countless readers, I am really proud to live in a country that has such a flourishing media scene, starting with the 850 local news titles across the UK (including the Melksham Independent News in my own constituency).

These local newspapers act as our neighbourhood watch. They have their ear to the ground of their communities - holding local public services’ feet to the fire, monitoring what is happening in the local courts and providing a valuable platform for causes and community groups.

But we also need the reporters and editors who work at national press and broadcast outlets, and who are just as vital to our democracy. Their front pages lead the national conversation. Their presenters ask the questions to which we all want answers. And their investigations shape our society by exposing wrongdoing.

So this week is the perfect opportunity for me to make clear that as Secretary of State, I am going to be a champion of journalism in every way I can. For me, that starts with one of the most pressing things in my in-tray: making sure this industry thrives in the digital age.

That has not always been easy. While the internet has transformed all of our lives for the better, I know that it has also completely uprooted the business models of local publishers. True, online readership of local media is growing - up 18 per cent on last year. But it is clear that big tech has swallowed up much of the ad market and contributed to the closure of too many newsrooms.

The annual Journalism Matters campaign highlights the vital role that trusted news media journalism plays in our democratic society.
The annual Journalism Matters campaign highlights the vital role that trusted news media journalism plays in our democratic society.

Journalism is just as important in 2022 as it was before the rise of the internet. So this government is committed to doing a number of things to protect it.

We are going to repeal Section 40, which would threaten media freedom and risk financial ruin for publishers. We have reshaped our world-leading Online Safety Bill to safeguard free speech and ensure Silicon Valley monoliths cannot censor quality journalism on a whim.

And we are stepping in to stop the biggest tech players from using their market dominance to mistreat other businesses and consumers. Our new regulator, the Digital Markets Unit, will level the playing field between news publishers and big tech - particularly when it comes to getting paid fairly for the news articles they create. After all, good journalism does not come for free.

Together, those things should give journalists the space and support they need to thrive, no matter what new tech throws at them.

Sadly, though, one thing seems to have survived the digital age. Being a journalist is just as risky as ever. In fact, thanks to the reach of social media, cases of intimidation, threats - and in rare cases - violence are on the rise. While the UK certainly doesn’t face the same challenges as other countries, one incident of abuse is one too many. No one should have to put up with that bile for simply doing their job.

I will be pushing ahead with our National Action Plan to ensure that journalists in the UK can operate without fear for their safety. Working alongside industry partners, the police and others, we are committed to reducing the number of attacks and threats against journalists and ensuring those responsible are brought to justice.

I intend to do my bit to help this essential industry thrive. But papers need your support, too.

Ultimately it is you - the readers - who keep your local Gazette, Inquirer or Bugle up and running.

When you buy a paper or visit a news website, you are doing so much more than getting up-to-speed on the latest news or gossip. You are supporting an institution that keeps this country running.

News Media Association chief executive Owen Meredith

News Media Association chief executive Owen Meredith (60326493)
News Media Association chief executive Owen Meredith (60326493)

During another tumultuous year, the role of journalism in our society has become more important than ever before.

The conflict in Ukraine has graphically shown us the critical importance of having eyewitnesses on the ground to document and explain the horrific brutality of war.

Spin and disinformation are used to confuse and destabilise, yet trusted journalism from well-known brands serves to neutralise this potent threat.

Closer to home, we are beginning to face up to the consequences of an economy under severe pressure on multiple fronts.

There is no doubt we have tough times ahead and the role of journalism in making sense of complex events, holding power to account, and campaigning on our behalf, will be more important than ever.

New research to be published by marketing body Newsworks during this week’s Journalism Matters campaign will demonstrate the critical role journalism is playing in helping families navigate the cost of living crisis.

But we must not take trusted news and information – which require significant resource to produce and distribute - for granted.

The news media industry today faces a multitude of threats. Overseas, this can take the form of authoritarian regimes who seek to clamp down on freedom of speech by murdering or imprisoning journalists.

Thankfully, we do not face such dire problems here, but we must always guard against insidious attempts to muzzle freedom speech such as Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.

This insidious piece of legislation - which would burden news publishers with crippling costs even if their journalism was vindicated - must be repealed immediately, delivering on the Conservative government’s manifesto commitment.

The business of journalism is also under threat with the tech platforms continuing to exercise huge power and abusing their dominance in the digital market to the detriment of news publishers.

The government made a good start by setting up the Digital Markets Unit – a tough new regulator tasked with levelling the playing field between the tech platforms and news publishers – but it still lacks the statutory teeth it needs to get the job done.

Just last week, MPs from an influential Parliamentary committee issued an unequivocal call for government to publish the draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill without delay. Calls which have been echoed by report after report over the last decade.

This legislation will enable the DMU to tackle the entrenched power and market abuses in the digital economy, driving down prices for consumers and small businesses, while helping to level the playing field between news publishers and the tech platforms.

It’s a win on all fronts and open goal for a government seeking ways to allow households to keep more of their money.

In recent years local journalism, which underpins democracy in communities right across the UK, has enjoyed a boom in audiences as people increasingly turn to sources of trusted information.

A fascinating study from government showed a direct link between higher local newspaper circulations and electoral turnout, proving that local papers boost democracy.

Local journalism is a precious resource, and it must be protected from the ravages of the deteriorating economy and the all-consuming tech platforms who exploit journalism to drive engagement yet contribute next to nothing back into the industry which invests in it.

A study earlier this year demonstrated the extent of the problem, finding news content created by British publishers generates approximately £1 billion in UK revenues for Google and Facebook every year.

That money should be flowing back to publishers, enabling them to invest further in journalism, rather than being diverted into the coffers of the tech platforms.

Government should explore ways to assist the local news media sector – such as through tax credits or business rates relief, as well as a firm commitment from government to keep public notices in print local newspapers – so publishers can continue to serve the growing audiences for trusted local news and information.

An overzealous BBC, seemingly determined to expand its local news services in direct competition with commercial providers, must be steered towards partnership with the commercial sector rather than competing with it.

Despite the challenges, there is cause for optimism as we celebrate Journalism Matters this week. In the UK, we are incredibly lucky to have a vibrant and diverse media which fights for our causes.

I ask you to join us in celebrating what journalists do, and by calling for those in power to take all the steps required to ensure highly trusted journalism has a truly sustainable future.

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