Northern Ireland news

Executive to consider rescue plan for local media

South Belfast MLA Matthew O'Toole has proposed a five point plan to rescue local media.

The Executive Office have said they will consider proposals aimed at securing the future of local media outlets, hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.

Former Downing Street advisor and SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole has proposed a 'five-point plan' to help preserve regional, local and community media.

Newspapers have experienced a significant drop in advertising revenue with social distancing restrictions having an impact on print sales.

READ MORE: Arlene Foster says some areas of UK could ease lockdown restrictions earlier than others

Several weekly newspapers have already suspended publication, including the County Down Spectator and Newry Reporter.

Other media outlets have furloughed staff or taken pay cuts.

As well as a rates holiday for local titles, the SDLP MLA has said the executive should commit to expanding its ad-buying across Northern Ireland media.

Mr O'Toole said: "Local and regional papers are not just sources of information – though that 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.

"For that reason it is unthinkable that the Northern Ireland Executive would let local papers go to the wall", he added.

Responding to the proposals, a spokesperson for The Executive Office said: "Ministers recognise the value of local media and are aware of the pressures being faced by the newspaper industry at this time.

"The Executive’s Coronavirus public information campaign includes extensive advertising across local media, providing support to many outlets during the emergency.

"Ministers will consider the proposals from Mr O’Toole, which cut across a number of departments, when they receive them".

Mr O'Toole added: "I've been a civil servant, a politician and a journalist at different points in my career – I know that the first two can only work if there are trained journalists to hold them to account and viable local news titles to serve communities."

Newspapers have come under pressure during the pandemic. Picture by Mal McCann

The proposed five point plan includes:

:: A one-year rates holiday for local newspapers, subject to a binding promise to reinvest half of savings in either new online products or recruiting new journalists.

:: The executive to prioritise key local media in advertising buying, and publicly release spending figures.

:: A new two-year £1 million annual 'Northern Ireland journalism fund' to train and locally employ young local democracy journalists for the first two years of their careers, and allow papers to apply for grants to invest in digital products or digitally upskill staff.

:: Convene Royal Mail, newsagents and large retailers to make newspaper deliveries easy and routine, such as via a single online portal based on models developed in the Republic and Britain.

:: Stormont to lobby the British and Irish governments to institute a proper 'digital information levy' on tech giants like Google and Facebook to be redirected towards funding local journalism.

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