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MPs urged to help small publishers fight tech giants amid title closure warning

Owen Meredith 2022MPs have been urged to help smaller publishers negotiate payment from tech giants amid a warning more local news titles will shut without government intervention.

News Media Association chief executive Owen Meredith has called for the launch of “collective bargaining mechanisms” to help independent regional news publishers obtain revenue from the likes of Google and Facebook.

Owen, pictured, shared his fears about the potential closure of more local titles while giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into the sustainability of local journalism, which held its first session on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport confirmed plans to put the new Digital Markets Unit, designed to help news publishers monetise content from tech giants, on a statutory footing as part of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill.

Appearing at the inquiry, Owen was questioned by Labour MP Rupa Huq about what provisions he would like to see in the forthcoming legislation in the forthcoming legislation.

In response, he said: “One of the important things and lessons we need to learn from the likes of Australia, where other mechanisms have been put in place, is that we need to have collective bargaining mechanisms so that smaller, independent publishers have the ability to join together and negotiate collectively with Google and Facebook and other platforms.

“Because, without that, the smallest news publishers and independent newsrooms will be left out.”

During the session, Owen also reiterated his previous calls for the DMU to be put on a statutory footing as soon as possible, with Committee chair Julian Knight questioning whether the UK Government “really need to get cracking with this”.

Said Owen: “I would very much like to see that bill published as soon as possible. I’m not sure what stage of the drafting process it is in but we have had seemingly endless consultation on the regime.”

“The problem is well documented. We need to get on, publish the bill, get Parliament to look at it.”

Asked by Mr Knight what the “consequences” are of delay to the bill becoming law, Owen told the Committee: “My fear is the consequence of delay and not getting a level playing field and ability for publishers to negotiate is sadly the closure of more local titles.

“So I think this is a very urgent matter that needs to be addressed by Parliament as soon as possible.”

In written evidence to the inquiry, Newsquest chief executive Henry Faure Walker previously warned local news titles – particularly those serving medium-sized towns – risk “going to the wall” without further government support