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A call has been made to the UK and Scottish governments to support local newspapers which have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
North Ayrshire and Arran MP Patricia Gibson has lodged an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons calling on the UK Government to support the industry.
The move came after politicians across the country were contacted by the owners of the Arran Banner, Wyvex Media, asking for help.
Local papers have suffered a significant fall in sales revenues, a drop of up to 35 per cent in some cases, as people are venturing to the shops less often and vulnerable older people, an important section of their readership, are asked to stay at home. This drop in sales has been coupled with a slump in advertising revenue of up to 75 per cent, leaving many local weeklies with staff on furlough, struggling for survival.
Oban Times group editor Susan Windram admitted: ‘If this continues even the short-term future of the Arran Banner is in grave doubt.
‘In extremely difficult circumstances, the Banner has continued to reflect what our readers are doing to get through the crisis, to recognise their achievements and keep them informed about services.
‘Maintaining community cohesion will be vital in the weeks to come and we firmly believe we will also have a key part to play in the recovery whenever that may be.’
In her early day motion, Patricia Gibson states: ‘Weekly local newspapers are part of the identity and make-up of our communities, where they play a key role particularly now during the coronavirus crisis. They share stories of how people are coping with the lockdown, highlight community events and accomplishments while providing important information on local services.
‘Despite this, the coronavirus threatens the existence of many papers. I have therefore written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, calling on the UK Government to introduce a package of support for local newspapers during the coronavirus pandemic.
‘The UK and Scottish Governments have taken out adverts in newspapers to share public health information which has helped to provide revenue but this alone is not enough. The Scottish Newspaper Society has requested the UK Government transfer advertising to news print media, an emergency fund for media companies and instructions to banks to make lending available to legitimate and trusted news operations.
‘We must ensure our well-loved and essential local papers are not another casualty of coronavirus. The UK Government must urgently consider these proposals and do all it can to ensure the survival of local papers which are so essential to the social fabric of communities.’
Meanwhile at Holyrood, Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson last week raised his concerns.
In a parliamentary question he asked: ‘I am sure the cabinet secretary will agree newspapers are vital to maintaining community cohesion and morale at this time, by reflecting readers’ activities, recognising their achievements and keeping them informed. However, the survival of some newspapers is in doubt because many readers cannot get out to buy print copies and advertising revenue plummets.
‘Much of the assistance required to support newspapers is reserved to the UK Government. What will the Scottish Government do to assist local, regional and Scottish newspapers? For example, will ministers consider 100 per cent rates relief for news publishers for the current financial year?
Economy secretary Fiona Hyslop replied: ‘I will consider the request that Kenneth Gibson has made. We are already in active dialogue with the newspaper industry. It is vital people understand what is going on in relation to the COVID-19 crisis.
‘Although some have done so, newspapers are not necessarily in a position to furlough staff because they want to stay active. In addition, some newspapers were vulnerable prior to COVID-19. We will therefore have to look at all such areas in respect of consideration of support for the newspaper industry.
‘I thank Kenneth Gibson for raising the issue. We are in active discussions and every suggestion and idea in relation to support will be considered. He mentioned that a number of issues are reserved to the UK Government. I commit to raising them as part of the quadrilateral meeting I take part in with the Welsh and Northern Irish governments and the relevant UK minister.’
The SNP’s Patricia and Kenneth Gibson have raised their concerns about the future of the Arran Banner and other weekly newspapers at Westminster and Holyrood. They are pictured on a visit to Arran in happier times last year. NO_B19castle07