Media funding must be fair, says John – as MP holds debate

The re-launch of the St Helena Independent – in competition with a government-funded rival – has prompted island blogger John Turner to oppose media subsidies.

But in the UK, one Conservative MP has called for tax breaks and financial assistance for local newspapers that cannot survive in the face of competition from the internet.

Louise Mensch says they are vital for local democracy – an argument that applies just as strongly in St Helena.

John writes about the issue on his internet journal, Random Thoughts From Offshore. He says: “Let me plant my flag firmly in the ground.  I believe the government of St Helena should not be subsidising any media organisations.  It is, in my view, a completely inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money.

“If the government seriously believes that media on St Helena needs help to grow… it should offer that cash to all of them, fairly.”

Louise Mensch has organised a debate at Westminster (24 April 2012) after learning that two daily newspapers in her Northamptonshire constituency were becoming weeklies.

She says: “The local press performs a unique function in our democracy, as often only a local paper will hold a council or MP to account. Government has to look at ways of preserving Britain’s most popular print media.

“When we think of so many things that are subsidised that have only limited appeal, surely there is a case for tax advantages for local papers.”

She says the UK government should think about “ways to facilitate local communities and businesses owning their own papers – like the supporters’ trust model for football clubs.”

Perhaps she should read The Saint Times – a newspaper launched by St Helena’s motocross club.

John Turner has been signed up as a columnist for the St Helena Independent, which re-launches on Friday, 27 April 2012.

The St Helena Independent is back – this Friday

Media section

Random Thoughts From Offshore – John Turner’s island blog
Mensch calls for more tax subsidies for local press – UK Press Gazette

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1 Comment

  1. I see problems with government funding of media, whether by direct subsidy or by tax break.

    The first is the appearance that the government is seeking to control the output. Editorial independence, like justice, needs to be seen to be done, and taking money from a government that you are supposed to be holding up to scrutiny looks suspicious. But then, do commercial companies that place large advertising contracts with media get a soft ride editorially? I sincerely hope not. Maybe if the funding is the same for everybody, whatever their editorial line, the independence argument can be addressed.

    But can the funding be the same for everybody? Absolutely everybody? What about a newspaper with a strongly white supremacist line? Or one that only permitted expression of its own particular viewpoint? Would these get funding too? But as soon as you say “no” to somebody, you have implicitly approved the editorial line of the others. You have applied a judgemental test based on editorial content. It then gets very difficult very quickly.

    Media is indeed an important part of the democratic process, but if a newspaper can’t attract enough readers and advertisers to be commercially viable, isn’t it doing something wrong? Subsidising it simply shields it from the commercial pressures that are trying to tell it change is necessary. The 1970s showed us the results of that.

    Having considered it, I hold to my view.

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