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Publishers demand rates relief extension after weekly’s closure

Conor MurphyThree independent publishers are demanding a ministerial meeting to press for additional rates support following the closure of a local newspaper.

Belfast Media Group, Spectator Newspapers and North West News Group are seeking a meeting with Northern Ireland’s Finance Minister Conor Murphy as the Banbridge Chronicle prepares to cease publication at the end of this month.

The three publishers have united to call on Stormont to remove the rates burden from newspaper publishers.

Rates on most local businesses in Northern Ireland were lifted due to Covid in March 2020 but that relief is set to end on 1 April 2022.

The Chronicle, owned by the Hodgett family and published for 151, cited “commercial difficulties” during the coronavirus pandemic for its decision to close.

In a joint letter to Mr Murphy, pictured, the publishers wrote: “The closure… of the Banbridge Chronicle highlights the pressures on community newspapers caused by the monopoly practices of the internet giants as well as the fallout from the decline in many grassroots businesses caused by the Covid pandemic.

“As you are aware, last year, as stewards of the community newspaper sector, we met with you to point out the grave consequences of a further decline in local news media at the expense of internet platforms which promote extremism, fuel racism and peddle fake news.”

They added: “Thankfully, last year, you were able, with colleagues, to introduce a package of support measures for local newspapers.

“This was greatly appreciated not just by our hardworking teams but by all those who depend on local newspapers as a trusted news source and as a linchpin of community infrastructure.

“We are writing to you now to ask for your support to have community newspaper offices zero-rated from 1 April 2022. The relief from rates afforded newspapers since 2020 has been a lifeline for local publications.

“However, to revert to 100 per cent rates would be a severe blow to our efforts to reconfigure and rebuild our vital news services for this new era.”

HTFP has approached Northern Ireland’s Department of Finance for a comment.