Journalism matters. It’s the theme of this week’s national campaign to celebrate the role a free press plays in British society, and it’s a powerful statement of fact. But why?
It’s not just to have something entertaining to read with our morning bowl of cornflakes.
Our democracy depends on it. Good journalism exposes wrongdoing and injustice, scrutinizes those in power, and defends and celebrates good causes.
And at the heart of our news industry are local newspapers, powered by reporters, editors, photographers and publishers working 24/7 to bring us news and information. reliable locals. Their newspapers – like the Bedford Times and Citizen, in my own riding – are the mainstays of their communities. They keep us up to date with stories that impact our daily lives – from council or court decisions to the rise and fall of local sports teams.
I want to pay tribute to the people who keep these newspapers in print. They work incredibly hard – and not always in the easiest of circumstances – to keep us informed and entertained.
Their work has become even more important in the age of the Internet. Every day we all go online and check our Facebook feeds, or browse Twitter or Instagram. Every time we do, we may be exposed to disturbing misinformation such as COVID vaccine conspiracy theories.
Now more than ever, we need well-researched, well-researched journalism. According to Ofcom, around two-thirds of people believe that the information they consume in print newspapers is exactly that: reliable, high quality and accurate. Journalists are our first line of defense in the fight against fake news.
Last year we supported news publishers with a £35m public information campaign during the pandemic, injecting vital advertising revenue into publishing.
We issued directives to local authorities to allow newspaper deliveries to continue, zero-rated VAT on e-newspapers to make it easier for people staying at home to read their daily newspapers, and extended business rate relief for local newspaper offices in England for an additional five years so they can retain more of their hard-earned income.
All of this has helped our newspapers through COVID. But we must look to the future.
We live in the digital age, and one of the biggest issues in my inbox as culture secretary is making sure the big social media platforms protect their users from online dangers, including including misinformation. We have introduced a ground-breaking online safety bill that will make us one of the first countries in the world to force tech companies to clean up their sites. But, crucially for journalists, this bill will also prevent social media companies from arbitrarily removing content from respected news organizations. And, even better, it includes extremely important protections and exemptions for journalists, so that we can protect their freedom of expression while requiring social media platforms to properly monitor their sites.
We also need to make sure news publishers and big tech compete on a level playing field – and we’ve set up a new competition unit to make sure the most powerful tech giants n do not abuse their dominance to disadvantage the companies that rely on them.
In government, we do everything we can to help our brilliant journalists do their job without fear or favour. This week, you can do the same – by picking up a newspaper or visiting the websites of our world-renowned news industry.