A group of Midlands MPs have told a regional daily that the local press should be exempt from any statutory curbs on the industry introduced in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.
With Lord Justice Leveson due to present his report next week, fears are growing that he will recommend a system of statutory regulation for the industry.
But Britain’s biggest regional daily the Express & Star has won the backing of West Midlands MPs for different rules to apply to local and regional newspapers.
They include the Labour MP Tom Watson who was at the forefront of exposing the actions of journalists at the News Of The World
West Bromwich MP Mr Watson said: “I’m aware that any new regulatory arrangements for the industry should be sensitive to the potential for regional papers to suffer because of the offences of the out-of-control tabloid media. There will need to be reform.
“But it is not beyond the wit of man to find a solution that guarantees the tabloids are dealt with while regional papers are not shackled with overbearing and onerous bureaucracy.”
Margot James, Conservative MP for Stourbridge, said: “I believe that regional and local media present a very different challenge to that posed by the national media. It may be that we need a different approach to regional media, which has never pushed the boundaries in the same way that became common place on Fleet Street.
“Regional and local press are rooted in their communities. We must not burden them with a costly and bureaucratic system that there is no evidence to suggest they require.”
Other MPs who called for a distinction to be made between the regional and national press included Emma Reynolds, MP for Wolverhampton North East, who said: “The regional press had nothing to do with phone hacking and that has to be remembered when we look at the outcome of the inquiry.”
Labour MP Ian Austin, who represents Dudley North, urged Lord Leveson not to propose anything that would harm the regional press, saying: “I hope Lord Leveson will do nothing to jeopardise the exemplary practices and integrity of Britain’s regional media.”
Pat McFadden, MP for Wolverhampton South East, agreed and said: “There is public concern at some of the conduct exposed by the Leveson Inquiry. But it would be a mistake to tar all newspapers with the same brush.
“In particular, I think the public has a greater trust in regional newspapers than they do in some of the national titles.”
Express & Star political editor Daniel Wainwright commented: “No reporter from the Express & Star has ever hacked a mobile phone . Nor have we paid the police for a story. Yet we may soon be treated the same as the journalists on national newspapers who did.”
“The bureaucracy that comes from statutory regulation would be a further cost burden that many, smaller publications, will not be able to bear. That will mean further cost cutting and more news going unreported if they are less able to afford to staff courts, council meetings and events.”