Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has told a regional daily that his comments referring to the press as “desperate animals” were not aimed at local newspapers.
Speaking to the Eastern Daily Press, he said the comments were aimed solely at national newspapers rather than local titles and praised the work of the regional press, whose journalists do “a phenomenal job”.
Mr Clegg’s initial comments, made at a party conference gathering last month, described the written press as “animals around a disappearing waterhole” who were “becoming more desperate” as circulations declined.
It led to Newspaper Society president Adrian Jeakings, who is also chief executive of Archant, writing to the Liberal Democrat leader to voice concern about what he said and demanding a meeting.
But in an interview with the Archant-owned EDP during a visit to Norfolk, Mr Clegg said his comments were not aimed at local newspapers, which he said were trusted much more than the national press.
He also backed the regional daily’s Ambulance Watch campaign, which has been launched to look into the service provided by the East of England Ambulance Service Trust, following reports of delays in getting crews to incidents.
The Deputy PM said: “You do a phenomenal job. The trust that people have in their local newspapers and the local radio stations, for instance, is considerably higher than the trust they have in national newspapers and dare I say it, national politicians, as well.
“Why? Well, for very good reason, because you are writing day in, day out, about the things which really affect people – their local community.
“Jobs in their local community, ambulance services in the local community, support for local pubs, local post offices.
“The point I was making was simply that speak to any newspaper proprietor and they will tell you there’s just a general dilemma that the newspaper industry faces which is that as more people get their news online, there’s a whole issue as to how do newspapers keep their readership.
“I think every national newspaper is on a downward trend in terms of readership, so what I was alluding to was the danger that some national newspapers, as they become ever more anxious to holding onto a diminishing pool of readers, sometimes might be tempted to lash out a bit, to try to create a bit of noise and drama in order to attract some attention to themselves.”
The EDP’s Ambulance Watch campaign aims to get a full picture of the service provided and try to find ways of improving the situation, after a number of readers reported delays in crews arriving.
It includes a survey about the East of England Ambulance Service Trust, asking about readers’ experiences, both good and bad.
Mr Clegg added: “This is a big, far flung, part of the country and it’s important that people, feel, wherever they live, they can rely on the ambulance service.
“I think it is exactly what regional and local papers should and can do is ask people for their local experiences, so we know what is going on on the ground.”