Government subsidies for the local press? Government encouraged or supported community media trusts? Of course, my American libertarian friends would throw their hands up in horror at such ideas. But UK Conservative MP Louise Mensch is pushing the government to do such things.
Mensch is worried rightly about the consequences of the decline in the UK of the local press and what it means for local government accountability and democracy. She wants a serious review and is calling on the government to introduce subsidies and tax advantages for local newspapers.
And she has a point about trying to create a level playing field for local newspapers. The country is awash with local Pravda-type propaganda newsheets put out by local authorities and financed by council taxpayers. Local newspapers have to compete also with regional BBC television, again funded by the public.
Britain’s local press is dominated by a handful of newspapers groups — Johnston Press, Newsquest and Northcliffe. And they have been slashing away at their properties. Newsquest’s ownership of the Herald Group in Glasgow has been nothing short of a disaster and both the Glasgow Herald and the Sunday Herald are pain shadows of what they once were. Johnstone has failed to revive the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. Down south there have staff cuts, papers getting thinner or being shifted from daily publication to weekly.
Of course, in these straitened times the big newspaper groups have suffered dramatic falls in advertising revenue and huge drops in profits. But there has been a marked lack of thought and creativity by managements as well.
Citizen journalism isn’t filling the gap.
So would government subsides bring government control? That doesn’t have to be the case. And there are examples of where it has worked — in Italy for instance.