An investigation in Byline Investigates has confirmed that, as other businesses struggle from the impact of COVID-19, £35m of taxpayers’ money has been handed over to corporate newspapers and their wealthy owners.
That’s right – the most powerful and wealthiest newspapers have just been given a £35m windfall by the Government.
Murdoch’s newspapers The Sun and The Times, as well as the Daily Mail and the Mirror, are among the newspapers getting a share of this huge state handout, framed as an “ad deal”.
Many of these publishers are profitable, while several are owned by individuals who do not pay taxes in the UK.
And while the Government hands over your money to big corporate publishers, independent titles struggling to survive have been cut out of the arrangement and are set to receive nothing.
Untrusted and unregulated
Beneficiaries of this deal are newspapers which are untrusted and unregulated. Byline Investigate’s analysis suggests that most of them are IPSO members, while virtually none are members of the only genuinely independent regulator IMPRESS.
Over its lifetime, IPSO has failed thousands of individuals affected by press abuse. When it was set up, we were promised million-pound fines, investigations into standards breaches, and low-cost arbitration. But in almost six years of operation, they haven’t imposed a single fine, conducted a single investigation, or processed a single arbitration claim.
Victim journalism can affect anyone, brutalising the lives of ordinary people. Take Danielle Hindley for example. She was failed by a system which should have protected her. Even though she told the Mail on Sunday the allegations against her were wholly unfounded, the paper published anyway – they didn’t care, and neither did IPSO.
Eventually, Danielle was able to seek justice through the courts.
Hearing that the Government is funding these newspapers to the tune of £35m, Danielle said,
“The Mail on Sunday put me and my family through hell after they published lies about my business, and they still haven’t paid my full damages two and half years later. I’m disgusted to think that my taxes will go towards propping up their profits.”
It is wrong for the Government to be funding these titles, which have subjected Danielle and thousands of other victims to press abuse.
Cash for coverage
What is the Government getting in return for our cash? Propaganda.
Framed as an “advertising deal”, the £35m of our money buys favourable stories about the Government in the national press.
That means The Mail, The Sun and other newspapers are being paid by the Government to publish stories about what a wonderful job the Government is doing. Really.
Public funds to support journalism should go to independent publishers who don’t get invited to media receptions in Downing Street. Any subsidies should be fairly distributed and have no strings attached.
Instead, the Government is using your money to fund its propaganda machine in the corporate press.
Image: Daily Mail
The Government’s war on independent newspapers
There are quality titles in the UK which fight for the public, hold truth to power, and don’t subject ordinary members of the public to abuse.
Most of them are independent publishers – from family-owned local titles rooted in the local community, to cutting edge investigative journalism websites.
The Public Interest News Foundation, which works with members of the only independent UK press regulator IMPRESS, has found that 75% of independent local titles fear closure due to the impact of coronavirus.
Closures on that scale would blow a huge hole in our democracy. As the corporate regional groups close down papers and sack journalists, these small operations are often the only source of reliable, accurate local information.
So it is no surprise that the independent publisher representative body the Independent Community News Network (ICNN) has found that 95% of the independent press says they have not received a penny of Government support. Byline Investigates – an independent title itself – has this week confirmed that the Government’s £35m press bonanza went almost exclusively to the biggest and wealthiest corporate publishers.
The greatest risk is that, as independent titles close, they will be swallowed up by corporate behemoths. The five biggest companies already own 80% of local newspapers – and now the remaining 20% face potential collapse.
Those independent publishers are more likely to be trusted and more likely to show their commitment to codes of journalism practice which prioritise the public interest.
We say that the Government should be on their side, not plumping up the profits of the wealthiest titles.