Regional publishers join forces to protect flagging industry

LONDON - The UK's top regional newspaper groups have joined forces to lobby the government in a bid to prevent further titles from closing down.

The chief executives from Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press, Newsquest, Northcliffe Media, Guardian Media Group, Archant and DC Thomson formed the Local Media Association (LMA) in January and held a secret meeting with the communications minister Lord Carter on February 2, according to a report in the Financial Times.

During the meeting the chief executives discussed the financial circumstances affecting the industry and suggested that the government help them to secure a deal with the BBC and ITV that involved local papers providing paid content for the broadcasters' online news services.

They also asked for the relaxation of merger restrictions. Under current ownership rules, there must be at least three separately owned commercial media providers across TV, radio and newspapers, in addition to the BBC, in a given local area.

The Office of Fair Trading has already begun a review into local and regional media ownership rules after Lord Carter made the suggestion in his interim Digital Britain report released in January.

During the meeting with the LMA, Lord Carter told the group that it needed to prove empirically that the government should intervene. According to the FT, the LMA has employed strategy consultancy OC&C to provide that proof.

A total of 57 local UK newspapers closed during 2008 as ad revenues continue to plummet.

In recent weeks, the Daily Mail and General Trust reported that ad revenue at its Northcliffe Media subsidiary fell 40% year on year in January, while Trinity Mirror said its regional ad revenue fell 37% year on year across January and February.

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