The move follows the introduction of business rates relief to the news media sector in Scotland.
Writing to DCMS Minister John Whittingdale, the SoE says it is hard to understand why shops and estate agents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been granted relief from business rates during the Covid-19 crisis but not the publications that rely on them for revenue. In Scotland the devolved government has now extended business rate relief to titles published North of the Border.
Now the SoE has called on the DCMS to urge the Treasury to provide similar respite throughout the rest of the UK.
“At this time of severe financial pressure on the media industry due to the Covid-19 crisis, it is imperative that all should be done to support the continued survival of a free press here in the UK,” wrote SoE executive director Ian Murray.
“The SoE believes that it is essential for the protection of our liberal democracy that the plurality of the media sector survives this crisis, and this entails supporting the industry through initiatives such as the application of business rate relief.
“The SoE finds it difficult to understand why a business rates holiday has been granted by the UK Government to such businesses as shops and estate agents, but not to publishers.
“The SoE does welcome the Government support already shown for the sector in the form of the introduction of VAT zero rating on e-publications, a public health ad campaign in news media, and early recognition of the industry’s key status. However more can and should be done” added Murray.
The SoE said it supported statements made by the News Media Association (NMA) calling for business rate relief to be extended.
The SoE also commended comments made by Murdo Fraser MSP, Conservative, in the Scottish Parliament. He said: “As we know, local newspapers are a vital source of information, particularly at the present time, when people are seeking information about what they can safely do, what is going on in the world and what messages Government and health authorities are telling them. They often derive that knowledge from local newspapers. People may not be able to access local newspapers in physical form, but many local papers have websites that people are accessing.
“Local newspapers are important, but they are suffering extremely hard times at the moment. Those that have continued to publish have seen a collapse in revenue. Circulation is down 25 per cent. Advertising revenue is down 75 per cent, which is not surprising, as many of the businesses that would normally advertise, such as hotels, restaurants and retailers, are not operating. These are extremely difficult times in the world of local newspapers.”