Tax relief, trusts and regulation: protecting the diversity of local and regional news

22 September 2009

 The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University has today published three working papers that examine different aspects of the current crisis in local news and offers possible solutions. The studies were commissioned by Ofcom to inform their research report on local and regional news, published today (22 September). The RISJ papers make a raft of suggestions including government news trusts, a press subsidy system and more government and regulatory intervention to protect the diversity of local and regional news.

'Navigating the crisis in local and regional news' by Dr Andrew Currah examines the current crisis and new systems of support, and charitable and other forms of organisation to support local news. He writes: ' It is worthwhile considering the role government might play in the formation of local and regional news trusts. In theory, these could function as charitable or non-charitable trusts, initially seeded with public money….the trusts would be constitutionally designed to provide arms length support to provide local and regional news provision in its myriad forms.' Dr Currah also advocates tax relief in areas of the news chain that are most vulnerable to disinvestments such as training.

'Journalism, democracy and the public interest' by Steven Barnett looks at regulatory approaches to local media ownership and their role in achieving public interest objectives.
The conclusion says: 'protecting competition as a means of ensuring pluralism is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for promoting journalistic diversity. Government and regulatory intervention to facilitate different ownership structures - funded through a variety of commercial, non-commercial and public sources - is a much more reliable means to the diversity end. But such interventions need to be coupled with coherent, robust and properly implemented definitions of the public interest linked directly to the role of journalism in sustaining a health democracy.'

'Press subsidies and local news: the Swedish case' by Karl-Erik Gustafsson, Henrik Ornebring and David A L Levy examines the current system of press subsidies that operates in Sweden which has underwritten the plurality of news supply, which characterises the Swedish local newspaper industry. The paper summarises the success of the press subsidies: ' Given the market pressures towards consolidation, it is surprising that the press subsidies have largely achieved their goal of maintaining structural diversity at a moderately reasonable cost. The prospects for the press subsidy system are good, since it commands widespread political support.'

For more information, please contact the University of Oxford Press Office on 01865 280534 or press.office@admin.ox.ac.uk

Notes to editors

  • Navigating the Crisis in Local & Regional News
  • Journalism, Democracy & Public Interest
  • Press Subsidies & Local News the Swedish Case
  • Dr Andrew Currah, is a lecturer at Oxford University, specialising in the digital economy and the future of the internet. His work has been published in a variety of international journals, as well as edited collections. He is also a freelance consultant and a regular contributor to Oxford Analytica, with responsibility for their coverage of digital and internet-related topics.
  •  Professor Steven Barnett is Professor of Communications at the University of Westminster. He was special adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications for its inquiry into News and Media Ownership, published in June 2008. He has authored several books on the BBC, public service broadcasting and the state of political journalism.
  • Dr David Levy is the Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University. He is a journalist, academic and former Controller of Public Policy at the BBC. His areas of expertise include public service reform, the impact of digital technology, media ownership and regulation in the UK and Europe.
  • Professor Karl Erik Gustaffson became the first Hamrin Professor of Mass Media Economics at the Goteborg School of Economics in 1989. In 2003 he moved to Jonkoping International Business School where he continued to hold the Hamrin Professorship.
  • Dr Henrik Ornebring is an Axess Research Fellow in Comparative European Journalism. Dr Henrik Örnebring has a fil kand (BA) in Media and Communication Studies with minors in Literature and Philosophy from Karlstad University and Göteborg University, Sweden.