Government backs charitable status for some forms of journalism

The idea has been put forward by today's Cairncross Review, which says local and investigative journalism could be wiped out if it doesn't find more funding

Could some forms of journalism be classed as charitable?
Could some forms of journalism be classed as charitable?

The government is backing the idea of granting charitable status to some forms of journalism and has asked the Charity Commission to look into how it could be achieved.

The move comes after the publication today of the Cairncross Review: A Sustainable Future for Journalism, which says that local news faces oblivion if it does not receive additional funding.

The review says that one of the ways in which local and investigative journalism could be better funded is through tax reliefs, which could be best achieved by granting news outlets charitable status.

In his response, culture secretary Jeremy Wright told parliament that the idea of charitable status for journalism was one the government would pursue, and he had written to the Charity Commission to see how this idea could be enacted.

But the review says the issue is complicated by the need for charities to remain politically neutral, which has proved problematic for many charitable think tanks.

The review suggests that adding journalism to the list of charitable purposes by amending the Charities Act 2011 could help news outlets become charities.

"The best way for government to affirm the wider societal benefit of public-interest news might be by granting charitable status to its providers," the review says.

"Such a development would not only serve to incentivise those producing journalism by lowering their costs; it would also open the doors to philanthropic giving – providing publishers with a potential new (and much-needed) revenue stream."

Wright told MPs that charitable status for journalism in the US had allowed public donations to fund it.

About 90 per cent of the revenue of US non-profit news publishers came from philanthropic donations, said Wright.

"Charitable status could reduce the costs for those producing this essential public-interest reporting and pave the way for a new revenue stream through philanthropic donations," Wright told MPs.

"I recognise that this avenue has been explored previously and that some hurdles will have to be cleared, but I believe we should pursue it."

The idea has been backed by the House of Lords Communications Committee, which in 2012 asked the government to consider changing the law.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, also supported the idea of giving some media outlets charitable status in a speech he made in Edinburgh last year.

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