Monday 27 January 2020 5:36 pm

Government hints at tax breaks in boost for news publishers

The government has hinted that it will consider a range of potential tax breaks for news publishers, marking a much-needed boost for the industry amid tough competition from tech giants.

A major review into the future of UK journalism funding last year set out a number of recommendations to help level the playing field and ensure the sustainability of high-quality reporting.

In a response issued today, the government threw its weight behind the majority of the recommendations, though a top industry body said the response did not go far enough.

The government said it supported the introduction of tax reliefs for publishers, as well as a new code of conduct to rebalance the relationship between publishers and social media platforms. It also backed the competition watchdog’s probe into the digital advertising market.

However, the government dismissed the idea of a new quango focusing on public interest news, saying it was not in its remit to launch such an organisation.

While some in the industry have called for increased public funding for high-quality journalism, the government warned there were some areas where its intervention would be “inappropriate” due to the importance of maintaining a free and independent press.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it has now committed £2m of investment into a new fund that will back new innovations in the supply of public interest news.

Henry Faure Walker, chairman of the News Media Association, welcomed the review, which was led by Dame Frances Cairncross.

“However, one year after Cairncross reported, we are disappointed at the lack of clear financial commitment by the government to implement the recommendations,” he said, warning that the new innovation fund appeared to bypass local news publishers.

“Without swift and significant market intervention now, the flow of independent, high-quality local news and information which is essential for the functioning of our democracy can no longer be guaranteed.”

The Cairncross Review is one of a string of probes into tech firms amid concerns their market dominance is stifling traditional publishers.

In its initial findings, the Competition and Markets Authority has warned that publishers can no longer compete “on equal terms” with Google and Facebook.

The UK is also set to bring in new laws to tackle so-called online harms, which are set to establish a duty of care to make social media firms responsible for the safety of their users.