Lord Phillips predicts local newspapers will be allowed to become charities

Liberal Democrat peer says the Charity Commission is likely to accept that papers' 'promotion of community life' should count as charitable purpose

Lord Phillips
Lord Phillips

Lord Andrew Phillips, the Liberal Democrat peer and charity lawyer, has said he is "utterly confident" the Charity Commission would allow a local newspaper to be registered as a charity.

Phillips was speaking at the launch this week of a report by the academic bodies Polis and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, which proposes new models for the charitable ownership of local newspapers.

"I’ve been flogging away for two years with the Charity Commission and got them to admit that a local paper can be a charity," Phillips said. "Not a paper owned by a commercial organisation that is owned by a charity, but a charity in its own right. It’s very unlawyerly of me to say so, but the battle is won."

He said it was "as plain as the nose on your face" that a local newspaper provided a service to the community and that "the promotion of community life is explicitly a charitable purpose".

Phillips said that a paper that was itself a charity could access grant funding, whereas a paper owned by a charity, such as The Guardian, which is owned by the Scott Trust, would find it much more difficult to attract grant funding.

"A newspaper could tap into funding from many sources, including local people, local authorities and also charitable foundations," he said. "There are thousands of those, many focused on one local area.The prospect of a substantial grant to do this is very real."

He said that a local paper would also have much greater access to volunteers and would be more engaged with its community. But he warned that a charitable newspaper would need to be impartial and have an effective scrutinising mechanism to ensure it remained so.

Phillips, founder of the law firm Bates, Wells & Braithwaite, said that he was now keen to support the first such organisation that chooses to become a charity. "I hope that we can take a real case to the commission as soon as possible," he said.

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