Google and Facebook asked to help fund local journalism

Google and Facebook have been asked to help fund local journalism to cover courts and councils, a former culture secretary said.

Tory MP John Whittingdale said the online giants were benefiting from local news, and had become the biggest providers of online news.

Speaking at a Society of Editors event to launch a HM Courts and Tribunal (HMCTS) team dedicated to promoting press coverage of courts, Mr Whittingdale said it would be "in the interests of Google and Facebook to support local journalism".

He said the venture could mirror that set up as part of the last licence fee settlement, where the BBC agreed to provide £8m a year to fund 150 reporters working in local newspaper newsrooms.

Mr Whittingdale added: "I have suggested that Facebook and Google could contribute into the existing scheme to support public service reporting and courts would be a very good place in which that contribution would be used to employ professional journalists."

He explained that while he had had some preliminary talks with the internet giants, they had not been "immediately enthusiastic".

Mr Whittingdale said companies like Facebook and Google made "huge sums of money" from content, and the Government was consulting on the idea of introducing a social media levy, with the money used to address challenges created by the growth of the internet.

He said the proceeds of a social media levy could be used to bolster the approach already established with the BBC for council reporting, adding: "To ensure not just council chambers are supported, but that we are able to see local justice being done."

In a bid to boost court reporting HMCTS has launched a team dedicated to promoting press coverage of courts.

It will bring together representatives from HMCTS and across the media who will look at ways to build strong relationships between media organisations and their local courts.

The group - which will make recommendations to HMCTS CEO Susan Acland-Hood - will include representatives of the Society of Editors and the News Media Association, and the Judicial Office, and will be chaired by Ed Owen, the Head of Communications for HMCTS.

The launch of the initiative on Thursday was also attended by former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, Ian McGregor, The Society of Editors President and Emeritus Editor of the Telegraph, John Whittingdale MP and Ian Murray, Society of Editors executive director.

Highlighting the importance of court reporting, Lord Judge said: "In a country governed by the rule of law, the importance of the press is a constitutional necessity."

He added: "Justice is not a cloistered virtue. It does not happen behind closed doors."