Is the UK government squandering taxpayers’ money at this time of crisis by sponsoring media articles praising its response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
This is what is being inferred by the digital newspaper The London Economic, which says “the government is lining the pockets of large newspaper groups with editorials praising its coronavirus response.”
The publication has now filed a freedom of information (FOI) request to determine the cost of the positive media campaign, although it says unverified estimates run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
An orchestrated content marketing blitz
“The government appears to have orchestrated a wide-scale content marketing blitz across national newspapers including the Sun and the Daily Mail in a bid to secure some positive coverage of its coronavirus response,” notes Jack Peat, journalist and founder of the publication.
“A number of similar pieces have appeared in regional publications, each highlighting how the support is helping firms in the area.” Among them is the Lincolnshire-based Grantham Journal .
Spending £35-million to prop up media outlets
The sponsored articles may be part of a government campaign that is spending a claimed £35-million of taxpayers’ money with media outlets in an effort to keep them viable as tradition online and offline advertising drops off.
But last week the magazine Private Eye alleged that money is mostly going to large newspaper groups that already have a good revenue base. Similarly, the centre for community journalism at Cardiff University surveyed a number of local publications, all of whom said they had received no such support.
Noted Peat: “Many of the titles selected also seem to be the ones who are most sympathetic to the government’s response to the current crisis, making the marketing bonanza all the more perplexing.”
UK government has always been a big ad spender
Even prior to the pandemic, the government was a large advertiser. According to Nielsen data, it was the 30th biggest spender on news brands in the period before the crisis started to take hold in the country.
Analysts predict the pandemic will cause the UK newspaper and magazine sector to lose £750-million in ad revenue and £15-million in print sales this year.