The vast majority of small independent news publishers have received no government support at all during the coronavirus crisis, research has revealed.
The Independent Community News Network says 95pc of members it surveyed have not benefitted from any of the eleven government measures outlined by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to help businesses during the pandemic.
Only 5pc of respondents said they had benefitted from the Government’s schemes to allow businesses to furlough workers and to provide income support for the self-employed.
An even smaller number – 3pc of ICNN members – said they had been able to benefit from the government’s grant scheme, keyword block-listing, VAT deferral and local authority guidance measures, while none were able to access funding from the government’s public information advertising campaign.
In a blog post, ICNN’s Matt Abbott wrote: “In most cases, independent publications are run by individuals who are not self-employed, and so cannot furlough themselves and continue to work or access income support.
“Smaller organisations tend not to have offices or premises, but work from home or in shared office spaces and none of them earn enough to benefit from VAT deferral or a zero-rate across e-publications.
“Yet the combined reach of the independent news sector in the UK is vast with several hundred professional publications reaching more than 15m people online every month; and with a collective print run of over 426,000.”
Research conducted by the Public Interest News Foundation in March reported that 75pc of independent news providers are at risk of closure due to coronavirus. A total of 39 hyperlocal titles took part in ICNN’s latest research.
Matt, pictured, added: “The sector reaches people who can’t be reached by other publications, including local people living in ‘news deserts’, BAME groups and younger people. They are small but professional organisations, with turnover below £2m and a commitment to high standards of journalism.
“They are the true frontline key workers in this industry keeping communities afloat with genuine, accurate and important information during this pandemic.
“Sadly, they are also the ones most at risk from the current crisis. The impact of COVID-19 on our independent news organisations could have a catastrophic impact on public health across the UK.”
He concluded: “If independent news providers are unable to continue reporting, due to lack of government intervention, entire communities will lose access to their only source of local news and information. The real cost and suffering of this decision will undoubtedly be the public.”
A government spokesperson said: “Newspapers are the lifeblood of our communities, and we recognise the vital role that local media plays in ensuring the provision of reliable, high-quality information during this time.
“As part of our All-in, All together campaign we are advertising across approximately 600 titles including UK nationals, regional dailies and weeklies, and independent media.
“The government’s wider public information campaign is also running across the full range of channels including TV, radio, out-of-home and digital to ensure the UK public receives the information they need about coronavirus.”