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Media Minister backs public notice cash for digital-only titles

Julia LopezMedia Minister Julia Lopez has backed the possibility of digital-only regional titles getting access to public notice cash.

Speaking to MPs at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into the sustainability of local journalism, Mrs Lopez stated the idea was “worth [the UK Government] looking into with greater detail”.

Mrs Lopez, pictured, revealed her support for the proposal after being quizzed by Conservative MP Steve Brine on whether she believed statutory notices should go to titles with “the most reach” or  those “offering the cheapest rate, regardless of whether they’re actually read”.

Mr Brine noted current rules meant titles could only take public notices if they publish every 26 days or more and went on to question whether digital-only titles should be made eligible for public notice contracts.

In response, the DCMS Minister said: “Potentially, I think this is a whole area that could be worth us looking into with greater detail because I think there’s also a question of reach that has been highlighted in your line of questioning.

“Given how fluid the industry is and how there’s more publications coming online, I think there probably needs to be questions asked about the reach and audience levels of different publications and how that is measured and determined in the rules that govern public notices. So I’m very happy to look into this in greater detail.”

Last year, the House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee supported a call by the News Media Association for public notices to stay in print.

The plea was also backed by regional publisher Newsquest this year in written evidence submitted to the DCMS Committee’s inquiry.

In recent weeks, a new national website called the Public Notice Portal, which highlights public notices placed in regional newspapers, has been launched by the NMA with the aid of £1m funding from Google.

However, hyperlocal publishers’ trade body the Independent Community News Network has previously vowed to fight for “fair access” to statutory notices for its members, with Daniel Ionescu, editor of Lincoln-based independent The Lincolnite, describing the money paid by authorities for advertising as “subsidies” for larger regional newspapers.

Mrs Lopez appeared before the DCMS Committee alongside Robert Specterman-Green, director for media & creative industries at her department, in what was the inquiry’s final evidence session yesterday morning.

Other issues discussed during the hearing included the future of the Local Democracy Reporting Service scheme involving the BBC and the regional press.

Committee member Giles Watling noted it had been “mooted that the Government should look at alternative ways of funding the LDRS” and asked Mrs Lopez whether she was “looking at that at the moment”.

In response, she said: “It’s something I would be open to insofar as if this committee were to make a recommendation I’d be very interested to test that proposition with my officials.”