A free and vibrant press is a crucial part of any healthy democracy. I’m an avid reader of my local papers in Newmarket, Haverhill, Mildenhall, Brandon and across Suffolk. But just as the Internet has created fantastic opportunities for new platforms and new voices to emerge, it has also raised some real questions about the future of the press.
How can we make sure publishers get value from their content in the digital age? How can we tackle the scourge of ‘clickbait’ or low quality news? And how can we make sure everyone can access and appreciate a diverse range of online news?
These are searching questions that apply to all parts of our media landscape, but especially regional and local newspapers. It is a difficult time for them, but they truly are the lifeblood of our communities.
And reporting from the local press has never been more important. Local papers help to bring together local voices and shine a light on important local issues - in communities, in courtrooms, in council chambers. Local media holds local power to account and uncovers injustices.
The House of Lords recently voted for stringent conditions to be inflicted on the press that could lead to smaller, local papers being put out of business and critically undermine democracy in some areas. The government is clear that we will fight against this attempt to curtail the press ever becoming law.
Editors have told me that adapting to the rapidly changing media world hasn’t always been easy. Publications have had to quickly make a number of important business decisions, including how to make the most out of online advertising, whether to use paywall models and how to effectively use social media platforms.
That’s why the Prime Minister has announced an external review, involving a panel of experts, to examine the range of challenges that the press industry is facing. We need to ensure the fourth estate has a level playing field in the face of rapidly developing technology, and that it’s appropriately rewarded for the content it creates.
With industry expertise looking into this, we’re confident we will find solutions that can help both the industry and government tackle these issues.
Our nation has a distinguished history of a fearless and independent press. This review and its recommendations will set out a vision for the future of our media sector, so we can preserve and nurture quality local reporting that is a key to our democracy.
Matt Hancock is the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Conservative MP for West Suffolk