The Government has been urged to ensure the survival of local newspapers in a Commons debate about the future of the industry.
MPs discussed the state of regional newspapers in a Westminster Hall debate yesterday after last week’s Leveson Report called for urgent government action to safeguard local titles.
The debate was requested by Burton MP Andrew Griffiths who highlighted the problems faced by the local press because of declining advertising revenues and the rise of the internet.
Ahead of the debate, the National Union of Journalists gave a briefing document to MPs on its concerns about cuts and closures in regional newspapers.
In it, the NUJ highlighted a number of problems facing the regional press, raising concerns about media ownership, low pay levels for journalists and job cuts.
Deputy general secretary Barry Fitzpatrick said: “The NUJ will continue to speak up for our local and regional newspapers – they are the lifeblood of communities across the UK.
“In the past decade many of our treasured newspaper titles have closed and the industry has seen round after round of cuts and redundancies.
“Executives are taking inappropriate corporate risks and threatening the long-term viability of the business by continually cutting away, undermining the quality of the product and callously sacrificing sales.”
Lord Justice Leveson’s report last week praised the local press, saying its contribution to local life was “truly without parallel”, and exempted regional papers from criticisms of the press culture raised at his inquiry.
Before the debate, Mr Griffiths told the Burton Mail: “Lord Justice Leveson specifically said in his report how regional newspapers were a hugely important force for good and that they were not tainted by the allegations of wrongdoing that some national papers had against them.
“Local papers provide vital, impartial news and information to the communities they serve. They also help in running important campaigns for the good of local people.
“If we really value the essential local voice that papers provide then it is essential we do more to support local newspapers and ensure their future survival.”
Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman, who is Shadow Minister for Media and Communications, said regional and local papers had nothing to fear from the Leveson Report.
She told the debate: “It is important to remember that Leveson’s proposals will do nothing to restrict good quality, free-thinking journalism or vibrant debate at a local or regional level.
“We are conscious that times are tough for regional news and we are keen to see the continuation of local print journalism for communities across the country.
“Therefore we support recommendations for a proportionate response for regional newspapers. This could include one of a number of solutions such as fines which are proportionate for regional press and also a solution which is not too bureaucratic.
“We all know that these are tough economic conditions for the regional and local newspaper industry and we are determined that any proposals that are brought forward will also put no additional costs on the industry.”