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Political parties must stop undermining local media with fake newspapers

PUBLISHED: 21:31 01 December 2019 | UPDATED: 21:31 01 December 2019

The NMA has challenged Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn to take steps to protect press freedom

The NMA has challenged Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn to take steps to protect press freedom

2019 ITV

By News Media Association chairman David Dinsmore

News brands, and in particular local newspapers and their websites, have a critical role to play in the general election.

They are the most trusted source of local news and information in communities across the UK and members of the public rely on them to scrutinise authority on their behalf.

They perform this function day in day out but, in the midst of a hard-fought general election campaign, the sector really comes under the spotlight.

As well as from local candidates vying for a seat in parliament, local news brands have visits from party leaders who are keen to take their message out to communities via trusted platforms.

Local news brands are, therefore, a vital part of the democratic process. So, it has been worrying to see political parties seeking to undermine and abuse the trusted relationship local news brands enjoy with their audiences. In the past week, all three of the main parties have been accused of creating fake local newspapers carrying party political campaigning content rather than independent local news. The consequences of this tactic are far reaching.

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Audiences could be led to believe that they are reading independent local news rather than party political content.

Or, they could see the charade for what it is - a cynical attempt by politicians to mislead the public. In both scenarios, trust in both politicians and local news media is badly damaged as a result. The News Media Association is calling on all political parties to immediately end this damaging practice which harms and undermines our democratic society. During this election campaign, politicians from across the political divide have spoken of the immense value that local news brands add to our society. It's no secret that the industry is facing enormous challenges as reading habits increasingly move towards digital, and the tech giants continue to gobble up the lion's share of advertising revenue.

Funding independent local journalism, which 40.6 million people across the UK consume every month in print and digital, is becoming an increasingly difficult job.

But, because they claim to understand the value news media adds to society, we want politicians to help the local sector as they adapt their business models for the future.

That's why, at the start of this election campaign, the NMA challenged Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn to answer five questions about how they would help the local media industry if they were elected.

We want them to take steps to protect press freedom, crack down on the tech giants who use our content yet contribute next to nothing back into the industry, and move government advertising spend back into trusted news media channels.

By doing this, whoever leads the next government will help ensure a bright future for the news brands which contribute so much to our democratic way of life.

Editor's Note: This newspaper supports the NMA and its views on this issue.

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