More than half of UK Parliamentary constituencies are not covered by a dedicated daily local newspaper, new research has found.
A report by King’s College London, entitled ‘Monopolising Local News’, found that 330 out of 650 parliamentary constituencies are not covered by a daily newspaper, meaning constituents in last year’s General Election were “likely to have received limited independent news and information” about candidates.
The study also found that two-thirds of local authority districts in the UK, containing 56pc of the UK’s population, are not served by a dedicated local daily newspaper that either reaches “a significant number of households or circulates a significant number of copies in the area.”
The report’s authors, Gordon Ramsay and Martin Moore, have called for a “major upheaval” of the nation’s existing media plurality framework after revealing 165 out of 406 local authorities were covered by a single newspaper publisher with a monopoly in that area.
However, they stopped short of recommending specific interventions in the regional press industry – such as the BBC’s proposal to employ 100 new public service reporters to cover local councils and courts.
The pair have urged more research to be undertaken into claims of a “growing democratic deficit” in the provision and diversity of local news, claiming increased overall readership of local news brands via their digital operations has not led to an increase in “on-the-ground” reporting.
The report states: “Local news groups point to the increase in readership of local online news sites as evidence that the decline in print newspapers is offset, or reversed, by a rise in digital news consumption.
“This increased readership, particularly in the last few years, has been dramatic, and means that – based on numbers alone – local news sites may be reaching more people than local print newspapers previously did.
“However, from a democratic perspective there are three clear differences between the digital news sites and their print predecessors.
“The increase in digital readership has not been accompanied by an increase in the on-the-ground reporting of local news. There are not more journalists covering local councils, courts, schools or hospitals. In fact there are indications that far fewer journalists are doing this.
“Consequently there has been no increase in the (already diminished) public interest journalism reaching these increased readerships.
“The increase has not reversed the centralisation and outsourcing of news production. The increase does not address the question of dominance. More people accessing fewer sources of news (and fewer viewpoints) is not a solution to the problem of reduced plurality.”
It continues: “These three issues go to the heart of claims about a growing democratic deficit as a consequence of a decline in the provision and diversity of local news: the lack of local reporting; the disappearance of local papers from the communities they serve; and the lack of plurality of local news provision.
“On the first and second of these issues, though there is increasing evidence of insufficiency, it is not yet comprehensive or detailed enough. There is a pressing need for research on which local councils are, or are not, being regularly reported on by journalists.”
Archant account for a further 7pc, while the remaining 58 publishers of one or more local newspapers account for just one-fifth of titles.
The report added the existing plurality framework was “neither promoting nor protecting” media plurality, adding there was a “significant gap” in the current legislative framework on this issue.
It states: “‘Competition and plurality policy are clearly separate but parallel policies’. Yet there is currently ‘no definition of media plurality in statute’, according to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
“Without such a definition, and one that recognises the democratic as well as economic rationale for plurality, it is hard to see how any regulator or other authority could evaluate whether there is ‘sufficient plurality’ of media in a local area.
“This study provides further evidence of the need for a media plurality policy that takes account of the needs of the citizen as well as the needs of the consumer. A new statutory framework could set out a definition of media plurality, and could promote and protect plurality for the benefit of the citizen, giving clear guidance to inform future policy.”