Senior ministers and officials have gone out of their way to praise the role of the regional press as Gordon Brown called for “improved relations” betwen local journalists and government.
In a speech to the Newspaper Conference of regional political journalists, Culture and Media Secretary Andy Burnham described local newspapers as “pillars of the community”
Meanwhile Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell told a House of Lords inquiry that the Prime Minister wants a greater focus on regional communications and said the government would “reduble its efforts” in this area.
Sir Gus, head of the home civil service, told the Lords communications committee: “The Government would like to engage more with the regional media. They feel it is a more important direct line of communication.”
Mr Burnham told the conference’s quarterly lunch that he saw local media as a vital component in instilling “local pride.”
He said: “In the same way that I talk about local football clubs as pillars of the community, I see local newspapers in exactly the same way. These are the things that people depend upon, they bring a sense of local pride, they’re part of the local fabric and furniture.”
Speaking about the BBC’s controversial local video proposals, currently undergoing assessment by the BBC Trust and Ofcom, he claimed BBC director general Mark Thompson is becoming “increasingly sensitive” about the broadcaster’s impact on other media.
“I’m very sympathetic to regional and local newspapers. It’s not my job to decide whether or not the BBC’s plans are right or wrong, we created the BBC Trust to do that,” he said.
“Mark Thompson is proving to be a leader that shows good judgement and I think he’s very conscious of the question of what is the right relationship between the BBC and the rest of the media landscape.
“These discussions are very live just now and are I think they are increasingly sensitive about the impact the BBC has on the rest of the media world but I don’t want to prejudge the Trust’s investigation in this area.”
He added: “I think one of the things that defines what I will be doing in this job, particularly on the media side of my brief, is how in a period of transition you help people make sense of the new world by carrying forward the things that they’ve come to trust and depend upon and beyond.
“I see local newspapers and regional newspapers very much in that category.”