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Murdoch and the Mail want your money

There is a campaign just now asking people to save newspapers. The gist: many are threatened by coronavirus-related advertising collapse; without them, especially plucky local ones, democracy will be under threat. The first stage is to ask the public to support them; the second, to demand government help.

Byline Times isn’t entirely sold on the idea of taxpayers’ money bailing out billionaire tax avoiders.

We need to remember that the biggest titles – the Sun, the Mail, the Telegraph and the Times – have proprietors who are genuine billionaires; that they are individuals and come from families worth thousands of millions of pounds. And those billionaires and their companies pay their taxes only where it suits them, which means that they pay the least they can manage in the UK.

Before we hand them any money that has been paid as taxes by nurses and bus drivers in this country, we need to be certain that (a) none of the cash will swell the personal coffers of the Murdochs, Rothermeres and Barclays, (b) they themselves have spent everything they can afford to keep their newspapers going, and (c) in the future, they will pay all the tax that they should in this country – no more Channel Islands, no more Bermuda, no more Delaware.

The piece also makes a good point about local newspapers. While there are some genuinely wonderful local newspapers – the Yorkshire Post springs to mind – many local papers are nothing of the sort. They are centrally produced, low-quality publications run by firms who’ve sacked most of the journalists and asset-stripped the businesses.

when the industry talks about the ‘local press’, it wants you to think of a heroic little outfit in a small town with a hard-working staff who are in tune with the needs and habits of the community and who deliver, not just information, but also social cohesion and identity.

In reality, the press industry has been furiously trashing that entire culture for decades. Three rapacious multi-million-pound corporations – Reach, Newsquest and JPMedia – have been rolling through the local and regional press industry like asset strippers, sacking journalists by the thousand and closing titles by the hundred.

Year after year, these three have banked handsome operating profits which, to a striking degree, they have spent outside the local and regional newspaper industry.

The article suggests that any help should be conditional, and should be designed to protect journalism rather than bad and broken businesses.

as these newspapers are always quick to insist in the context of other benefit claimants – we must weed out the scroungers from those genuinely deserving of support. And we must do so with a clear eye on the future.

…Let the billionaires exhaust their own funds and pay their own taxes first. Let them make their practices and finances accessible and transparent to taxpayers. Let them make their journalism properly accountable.