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Jack Straw wades into council newspapers row

Justice secretary Jack Straw has waded into the ongoing row over taxpayer-funded local authority newspapers.

He backed the local press, saying he was on their side when making reference to the Hammersmith and Fulham Chronicle’s issues with ‘h&f news’, the newsletter published by its local council.

We reported on Friday that the Chronicle has launched an awareness-raising campaign against Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s own newspaper.

Mr Straw, speaking to the regional press lobby correspondents at the Newspaper Conference lunch on Tuesday, said the Lancashire Telegraph for which he writes a column was “the world’s most important newspaper”.

“What that quip tells is an essential truth about the regional press, and indeed about the local papers, which is that they are, in my judgement, of fundamental importance to the workings of our democracy,” he told journalists.

In a wide ranging interview, Mr Straw also spoke about issues including the general election, the Jon Venables story and prisons.

He said: “Two years ago you and your colleagues raised a series of concerns then about things that were unquestionably affecting the finances and survival of local papers.

“One was about the proposal to extend the operation of BBC Local websites, the second was about paying for court lists, and the third was in respect of libel fees and libel law.

“By much persuading, the BBC were told the reach of their local websites was good enough.

“I was completely gobsmacked when I discovered that the court service, which I’m responsible for were, or some parts of it were, charging for court lists. We stopped that and what else we can do is ensure that court results are available on websites.”