Meeting with minister to support newspapers

Meeting with minister to support newspapers

15 July 2020

FORMER Downpatrick man and South Belfast MLA Matthew O’Toole has met with Stormont finance minister Conor Murphy to raise the issue of support for local newspapers.

The meeting took place a number of weeks after Mr O’Toole — who grew up reading the Down Recorder – called on the Northern Ireland Executive to take urgent action to preserve the vital role of local and regional media in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

Mr O’Toole said the crisis has highlighted the importance of local and regional media in providing accurate, professionally sourced information. 

He said whatever the scepticism about some aspects of the national or international media, there are high levels of trust for local and regional media, insisting that people understand these papers exist to serve and give a voice to their communities.

The MLA said the coronavirus crisis has led to a collapse in advertising revenue for news media in both print and online, while social distancing restrictions have also hampered print sales.

He said the crisis has come on top of nearly two decades of structural challenge for traditional newspapers, with print sales falling and digital giants increasingly monopolising advertising revenue online.

Mr O’Toole had previously proposed a five-point plan to protect local and regional media and allow it to thrive in the future including a one-year rates holiday for local newspapers and a £1m annual Northern Ireland journalism fund.

Welcoming his meeting with the finance minister, Mr O’Toole, said he continued to make the case that the Executive must act urgently to save local, regional and community media from a complete collapse.

“We are facing a crisis in our local media which threatens not just the people who own papers, but the resilience of the local communities they serve,” said the MLA.

“Local and regional papers are not just sources of information, though that itself is vital, they are the meeting point of people and places. They bind communities together, mitigate against isolation and provide something close to an essential service. It is unthinkable that they would be allowed to collapse.”

Mr O’Toole, who is a former Downing Street press officer, says he also favours a tax on the internet giants.

“A number of months ago, I wrote to the Executive to ask them to initiate work on my action plan, which includes a rates holiday for local newspapers, prioritising local media in advertising spend, committing to a £1m journalism fund and to press the British Government to institute a digital information levy on social media giants such as Facebook and Google,” he said.

The MLA added: “I welcomed the opportunity to engage with the finance minister where I pressed upon him the importance of committing to act to save this vital industry. I hope that he will agree with me and make necessary funds available.”