SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole has met with Finance Minister Conor Murphy to raise the issue of support for local newspapers.

The South Belfast representative had earlier called on the Executive to take urgent action to preserve the vital role of local and regional media in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

The Coronavirus crisis has led to a collapse in advertising revenue for news media in both print and online, while social distancing restrictions have also hampered the ability of newspapers to maintain significant volumes of print sales.

The crisis has come on top of nearly two decades of structural challenge for traditional newspapers, with print sales falling and digital giants increasingly monopolising advertising revenue online.

O’Toole had previously proposed a five-point plan to protect local and regional media, and allow it to thrive in the future including a one-year rates holiday for local newspapers and a £1 million annual Northern Ireland Journalism Fund.

He welcomed his meeting with Finance Minister Conor Murphy.

“Earlier this week, I met with Finance Minister, Conor Murphy, where I continued to make the case that the Executive must act urgently to save our local, regional and community media from a complete collapse,” he explained.

HIGHLIGHTING VITAL ROLE OF LOCAL PRESS: SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole
HIGHLIGHTING VITAL ROLE OF LOCAL PRESS: SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole

 “We are facing a crisis in our local media which threatens not just the people who own papers, but the resilience of the local communities they serve. Local and regional papers are not just sources of information, though that itself is vital, they are the meeting point of people and places. They bind communities together, mitigate against isolation and provide something close to an essential service. It is unthinkable that they would be allowed to collapse."

The former Number 10 press officer says he also favours a tax on the internet giants.

“A number of months ago, I wrote to the Executive to ask them to initiate work on my action plan, which includes; a rates holiday for local newspapers, prioritising local media in advertising spend, committing to a £1m Journalism Fund and to press the British Government to institute a Digital Information Levy on social media giants, such as Facebook and Google.

“I welcomed the opportunity to engage with the Finance Minister, where I pressed upon him the importance of committing to act to save this vital industry. I hope the Minister will agree with me and make necessary funds available.”