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MPs Praise Trusted Local Newspapers in House of Commons Debate

MPs have praised the role of trusted local newspapers as champions of local democracy and called on the government to stop withdrawing advertising from local press.

In a debate on the local press led by Louise Mensch, MP for Corby, Conservative MPs paid tribute to the role played by their local papers for their role championing causes on behalf of their readers and holding authority to account.

Asked by Andrew Griffiths, MP for Burton, about whether the government should change its mind over proposals to withdraw the requirement to place traffic order notices in local newspapers, Mrs Mensch said: “It should indeed change its mind. There is absolutely no justification for Government withdrawing advertising support when they provide subsidy for various other types of media.”

She said it was “a vital part of our local democracy” for politicians from all parties to be able to publicise campaigns in local papers and called on the government to look at ways, such as subsidies,  to help the industry surmount the challenges it is facing.

Mrs Mensch said: “I agree with my hon. friend. We have to look at the press as a special case. Local newspapers, as I said at the beginning of my speech, perform an absolutely irreplaceable function in our democracy. Nobody else will be interested in the malfeasance of our local councils.

“Few people will be interested in the expenses scandals or otherwise of those of us who are on the back benches and not of ministerial rank—I almost said “fodder” but, fortunately, I stopped myself.”

She added: “When part of that advertising comes from government and the local council, it is important to create a level playing field over various forms of media. The BBC is a national treasure, but when it goes to hyper-localism in its websites and reporting, it creates a very difficult behemoth for local commercial papers to compete against.

“Council free sheets have been the single biggest cannibal of the markets of local papers. Research sent to me by Retail Newsagent magazine states that more than £5 million will be wiped off local newsagents in the future.

"It is not merely the 10,000 journalists that local newspapers employ, but the subsidiary trade that they bring to their areas and to newsagents that rely on passing trade and footfall, as people come in to buy their local paper every day.”

Talking about council freesheets she said: “At the same time—not that one usually ever has to press the great and wonderful Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to any kind of action—when he is stamping down on council free sheets, I hope that he will look again and do it with ever more vigour, because it is completely unfair and wrong for ratepayers to be asked to subsidise something that puts their local paper out of business.

“All we ask for is a little fairness to preserve something that is so important in our national life. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.”

In response, Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications & the Creative Industries, said We have relaxed the media ownership rules to allow local newspaper groups to merge; we have conducted a consultation on traffic regulation orders, which has just concluded; we have restricted the use of council free sheets; we have introduced local television, which I think will supplement and support local newspapers; and we continue to support community radio.

“Above all, the message goes out from the House and from this lively, well-informed debate about the passionate support in this House and among our local communities for our local newspapers.”

He added: “Time and again we hear about the much wider impact of local newspapers, not just in delivering news to their local communities but the tangential impact on skills and training.

“That is why, for example, to return to my own patch in Oxfordshire, I am heartened that there is a drive by the editor-in-chief, Simon O’Neill, to continue to invest in journalism because of the recognition that quality journalism sits at the heart not just of the success of local newspapers, but of media generally.”

At the debate attended by around 20 MPs yesterday (Wednesday),  MPs praised their local papers. Gloria De Piero, Ashfield MP (Lab): “Local papers are essential for local democracy. Members might all like to think that people with concerns come straight to us, but they often go to the local paper, which they trust.

“We often read it and that enables us to do our job. I thank the hon. Lady for securing this debate.”

Mr Robin Walker, Worcester MP, said: I am very proud to have in my constituency the oldest continuously running newspaper in the world, Berrow’s Worcester Journal.

“The editor of that newspaper has urged me to make the point that it is not only a question of the value for money the Government get out of their advertisements in the press; it is also a question of trust. As my hon. Friend pointed out, people have greater trust in what they read from newspapers.”

Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth, said the Eastern Daily Press was a “campaigning newspaper”  and “a good example of how a newspaper can move forward without subsidies.”

The NS is the voice of Britain’s local media, the UK’s most trusted medium. It represents 1,100 newspapers, 1,700 websites and other print, digital and broadcast channels.