The Welsh government has been urged to extend the furlough scheme to help secure the future of Welsh journalism amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The call, made as part of the published report today by the Senedd Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee on the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on journalism and local media, encouraged the Welsh government to work with the industry to identify what support was needed.
Helen Mary Jones, Chair of the Committee said that there had been an enormous appetite for news during the pandemic and it had proved more important than ever to ensure that the people of Wales had access to news that was both accurate and relevant to them.
She added: “We are acutely aware that the pandemic has put a huge strain on our news and media sectors, with depleted revenue from advertising and sales leading to job and service cuts.
“We have already seen job cuts at Reach PLC, a major provider of news in Wales with Wales Online, Western Mail, North Wales Live and the Daily Post among its titles. We must act now to prevent further cuts and restructuring which are shrinking Wales’ media.
“That is why we are calling on the Welsh Government to urge the UK Government to continue the Job Retention Scheme beyond October 2020 on a sectoral basis in recognition of the fact that the majority of news journalism businesses will not be able to return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity for some time to come. And Welsh Government should encourage businesses to make use of the Scheme while they explore longer term solutions instead of making employees redundant.
“We therefore urgently call on the Welsh Government to take affirmative action to support news journalism in Wales, and hope to explore this issue in further detail in the autumn term.”
The inquiry received written contributions and heard oral evidence from stakeholders between May and August 2020. Evidence included the quality and accuracy of news reporting, the increase in demand for relevant and informative news, as well as the economic hit on advertising revenue and newspaper sales.
The committee accepted in its report that the “crisis has provided a further stress on an increasingly fragile business model” but urged publishers not to make long-term business decisions that could have devastating consequences for journalism in Wales.
It said: “Long-term business decisions which could have devastating consequences for journalism in Wales should not be made in the midst of a crisis. Media providers should not be using this pandemic to accelerate their restructuring plans to deal with long term problems. There is a risk that making permanent and major decisions now could have a more severe impact than would be the case if such decisions were made later down the line when we have a clearer understanding of the impact of the pandemic. We feel that more could be done to weather the storm by companies making full use of the furlough scheme and using their cash reserves.”
Praising the Welsh Government’s decision to repurpose the remainder of the Independent Community News fund, launched in 2019, to support the hyperlocal news sector during the crisis, the committee called on the government to go further to support hyperlocal publications by identifying the changes necessary to enable statutory notices to be published by hyperlocal and online providers. The Welsh Government should also lead conversations with representatives from the sector to gain a clearer understanding of the immediate support required and explore solutions other than redundancies it said.