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Burnham and Balls in moves to help local press

A government minister looking into the future of the UK digital media has been asked to address the plight of the regional press as part of his investigations.

Communications minister Lord Carter is due to publish his long-awaited “Digital Britain” report next Monday, 26 January.

Yesterday media secretary Andy Burnham revealed he had asked the peer to look at the local news media as part of his work on the report.

“We do need to take a very careful look at local news outlets in the current climate to see whether more creative ways can be found to sustain high quality media at the local level,” he told MPs.

Scottish Labour MP Katy Clark had asked him about the prospects for the local press during questions in the House of Commons yesterday.

Mr Burnham said: “I have asked Lord Carter to take a specific look at the local news media in his work on Digital Britain.

Meanwhile a fellow Cabinet minister has voiced his opposition to any moves by local government to undermine local media – including launching their own publications. A Cabinet minister has voiced his opposition to any moves by local government to undermine local media – including launching their own publications.

Speaking at a Newspaper Conference lunch in Westminster, Children’s Secretary Ed Balls said local newspapers played a “very important role” in the community, adding: “I don’t think it would be sensible to have any strategy on these things which actively damages them.”

The MP was asked by the Newspaper Society for his views on local authorities who were increasingly seeking to supplant the role of local newspapers by producing publications and websites offering ‘independent’ local news and competing head-to-head with local media for advertising revenues.

Mr Balls responded: “It is vital for the identity and aspirations of these communities that local newspapers are strong and flourish…While there are clear competition rules about what public and private sectors can do, I think any local area which is making decisions which are undermining, actively, local newspapers, I think that would be a retrograde thing to do.”

He said local newspapers were “very good for the aspirations of the community” and were “the most trusted source of advice and information on what’s going on in local communities.”

“The strong message from the centre of government is that all ministers should make sure they’re doing everything they can to support regional media,” which is “well-read and trusted…and provides a vital service,” he added.

The Newspaper Society’s communications director Lynne Anderson had warned that by undermining the commercial viability of local papers, local authorities could end up as the main providers of local news in some areas.

“It is probably not an exaggeration to say, in the current economic climate, that in some parts of the country the local authority may become the only source of local news,” she said.


Sub (20/01/2009 10:19:00)
Looks like the government care more about local press than companies like Johnston Press do.

Chris Youett (20/01/2009 15:24:14)
The so-called digital revolution isn’t the real problem: it is that all the major media owners are effectively giving away their news and features for nothing on digital formats.
All the major media owners privately admit that they make almost no profits from digital services. Many newspaper editors would like to stop these services or at least charge the market rate.
The government should start by banning media owners from offering digital services at below the market rate as it is almost certainly a breach of the Treaty of Rome.
Alternatively, our employers can wait for the EEC inspectors, which is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone!

Trudy Dean (23/01/2009 13:33:08)
This suggests that the Government may not have realised that their 2003 legislation allowing local authorities to compete with the private sector would cause damage to the private sector and the local media in particular. KCC has been particularly aggressive in this field. Its good news that the government may be having second thoughts and giving some attention to protecting the independence and survival of local press coverage. Perhaps they may also go on to look at the activities of Local Authority owned businesses such as buses, and temporary staff which have led to so many protests from businesses in Kent. At present no business man can have the confidence to create new businesses or expand existing ones wif he needs to look out for a predatory local authority which may take his business away.