The minister pleaded with people across the UK to “add one small thing” to their to-do list and buy a paper as he admitted the coronavirus pandemic had caused the “biggest existential crisis” in the history of the press.
National and regional titles have seen advertising revenues plummet and circulation decline amid the Covid-19 crisis.
“Newspapers are at heart of the British media and essential to its vibrant mix,” the MP for Hertsmere wrote in The Times. “People across the country are rising to the coronavirus challenge and I suggest we all add one small thing to our to-do list: buy a paper.”
He added that he had instructed the country’s 100 biggest brands to end so-called ad-blocking, the practice in which companies demand their adverts are not placed next to articles about certain subjects – in this case Covid-19.
Mr Dowden wrote: “National, regional and local newspapers are under huge financial pressure, largely because of plummeting commercial advertising on their printed pages and websites.
“Falling demand for advertising has also been exacerbated by something called keyword blocking, where advertising linked to specific keywords is prevented from being served on papers’ web pages. Some major UK brands and parts of the advertising industry are blocking adverts appearing next to coronavirus-related news stories…
“So today I am asking companies and the advertising industry to act and do all they can to resolve this issue. I have written to the 100 biggest brands in the UK to urge them to review their advertising policies and check they are not inappropriately blocking adverts from appearing next to news providing a vital public service.”
The intervention came after two of the UK’s biggest publishers cut wages for staff in efforts to mitigate the crisis.
The Daily Mail and General Trust, which owns the Mail, Metro and the i newspapers, has imposed a pay cut on all staff earning over £40,000 a year.
And Reach, owner of the Mirror and Express as well as hundreds of regional newspapers, said all staff would see a pay cut of at least 10 per cent.
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