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Keep the state out of local papers – Satchwell

Society of Editors boss Bob Satchwell has hit out at a suggestion put forward at his organisation’s own conference last month that local newspapers could be state-subsidised.

The idea was first flagged-up by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger who said some of the BBC licence fee could be shared with local papers to keep them afloat.

The suggestion also won the backing of former BBC political editor Andrew Marr who told the conference he “couldn’t think of a better cause” than helping local newspapers survive.

But SoE executive director Mr Satchwell yesterday came out firmly against the idea, comparing it to practices in the former Soviet Bloc.

“The last thing any newspaper should do is accept subsidy from the state. The particular strength of the UK newspaper industry is its independence and commercial success,” he said.

“When the Balkans and Iron Curtain countries wanted to establish a free press they thought every political faction should have its own newspaper. That’s not a free press, that’s a boring press.

“That said, politicians should do everything they can, in word and deed to support newspapers, rather than denigrate them at every opportunity, because they are an integral part of democracy.

“In the current climate particularly the government should keep advertising and insist that local government continues to use local papers for planning applications and other public notices because there is a public interest in maintaining viable local and national media.”

Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, has also opposed the idea on the grounds that the big publishing groups are still profitable and don’t need subsidising.

“The major newspaper groups shouldn’t need state aid – run as they are, they certainly don’t deserve it,” he said.


Barry Fry (16/12/2008 11:57:04)
The local press is on its knees. Many papers are closing and thousands of jobs are being lost. In an ideal world I’d be dead against subsidies, but surely it’s better than having no papers in many communities?

John (16/12/2008 12:17:30)
I couldn’t agree more. We need local papers but the way things are going in 5-10 years there won’t be many left. Every possible avenue needs exploring

Bob Satchwell (16/12/2008 13:17:05)
Your report is correct but your conclusions are not.
I remain firmly against any direct government subsidy of newspapers or any part of the media at any level. That does not mean I am necessarily at odds with Alan Rusbridger’s suggestion about sharing some of the BBC licence fee to support local news. That is unlikely but it should not rule out the BBC working with other media in the provision of local news. The key argument about the BBC extending its local news coverage was that local papers are already providing local news in far greater depth than the BBC ever planned. That remains the basis for a partnership that could provide benefits all round.

Wise guy (16/12/2008 14:05:32)
Keep the Satchwell out of local papers – State

Lister (17/12/2008 11:25:22)
If local newspaper groups are axing staff to maintain profits and the staff are forced to sign on (as is the case up and down the country), isn’t the state already subsidising those papers by paying dole and benefits in order to maintain newspaper profits?

Rob Melville (17/12/2008 12:11:41)
The irony is that by this stage, in the 21st century, state subsidies create the possibility of a more independent, autonomous press than the consensual, market-led press that we have today.