Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has highlighted the importance of the local press at the Leveson Inquiry – but said there are not enough resources to support quality journalism.
Speaking at the inquiry yesterday, Mr Brown said his local newspaper, understood to be the Fife Free Press, had just had its editorial staff merged with those at the neighbouring title and said this was a problem throughout the country and even across the world.
He said: “As you know, there’s a debate about whether the BBC should be in local radio, whether it should simply be commercial radio, and how the integration of local newspapers with local broadcasting, with local television and local radio should happen.
“It’s clear to me, however, that without some underpinning — and it may be financial — then there is a market failure here.
“There is not enough resources now to support the quality journalism that you are talking about. My own local newspaper has just had its editorial staff merged with the next door newspaper.
“They’re running down the numbers of staff that are providing this local service and I think you would find this in every part of the country that you go into, and more than that, you’re finding it all across the world now, because an internet journalist, who is someone who’s sort of doing their own, if you like, self-journalism, can put their views up on a screen and put their views across the world, but if they’re not resourced and they’re not doing proper research and there’s no investigative journalism, then we’re diminishing the quality of the output that is available to us.”
At the inquiry, Mr Brown highlighted the problem of a lack of advertising facing the regional press and said he sees a local newspaper “going under” every week.
And he said the model used by the BBC could be used to fund quality journalism in the future.
Mr Brown said: “Is the BBC model of any use to us? I think we ought to look at that. It certainly deals with this issue that there is a public good that the market cannot supply, and it certainly deals with the issue about how you might apply this to the Internet, as well as to broadcasting, because there is a zero cost in getting to millions of people once you get to the first thousand of people.
“I would think that if we are genuine in trying to root out the bad but also trying to encourage the good, I think we to have to say something about how quality journalism in this country can be financed, supported and really sponsored in the future.”
He also commented on the importance of having a local press, saying organisations are not properly held to account without one.
Added Mr Brown: “This is why I defend the freedom of the press and the right of the press to have the powers that they have, because without shining the light on potential corruption or maladministration or the abuse of power – and that’s true at a local level as well as at a national level – people get away with doing things in an unaccountable manner that are completely unacceptable, and that’s why you need a local press.”