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Patten speaks up for regional press in conference opener

BBC chairman Lord Patten tonight praised the work of the regional press as he opened the 2011 Society of Editors conference in Runnymede.

Contrasting the ‘honest job’ done by regional and local journalists with the ‘criminal behaviour’ that was allegedly institutionalised on the News of the World, he singled out two recent newspaper campaigns as proof of the good work done by the industry.

The former Conservative minister said he agreed with Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre that a lot of the criticisms of journalists made in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal were unfair – particularly to the local media.

Delivering the annual Society of Editors’ Lecture, he went on to argue against introducing statutory regulation for the industry, saying that a system that worked for broadcasters would not necessarily work for newspapers.

Lord Patten said:  “I find myself agreeing with Paul Dacre that a lot of the noise is unfair and unwelcome to a great number of journalists in this country, not least in the local and regional press, who are doing an honest job without any great reward.

“But I need no convincing that the overwhelming majority of journalists do their job conscientiously and professionally and have been disgusted by the stories of malpractice that have surfaced this year.

“I mentioned local and regional papers. They are important not only because they hold those in power to account, but also because they fight their readers’ corner in seeking to make their lives better and their communities safer.

“Recent examples I am aware of include the Yorkshire Post’s ‘Give Us A Fair Deal’ campaign which has sought to raise awareness of the impact of the recession on the Yorkshire and Humber region, and the Enfield Independent’s ‘Don’t Carry, Don’t Kill’ campaign for tougher sentences for knife crime among under 18s.”

“Clearly, a gulf lies between this form of journalism and the sort of criminal behaviour that, it is alleged, was institutionalised at the News of the World.

“It would be wrong to try to import any model of regulation from the broadcast media to the press.   Newspapers themselves need to find ways to re-build public trust in what they do.”

Yorkshire Post editor Peter Charlton welcomed Lord Patten’s comments on the regional press and on his newspaper’s campaign, which aims to highlight the growing North-South prosperity divide.

He told HTFP:  “Phone hacking is anathema to those in the regional press who live and work in the communities they serve.

“In  more than 40 years in journalism and 23 years as a daily editor, all the newspapers I have been associated with have adhered to the Press Complaints Commission Code of Conduct.

“We are a million miles away from the red-top agenda that has led to all journalists coming under the microscope.”

In a question and answer session following the lecture, former Belfast Telegraph editor Ed Curran pressed Lord Patten on whether he favoured the retention or abolition of the PCC, but the peer was non-committal in his response.

He said:  “I don’t think it behoves me to sit in judgement on the PCC as presently constituted, but I think everybody recognises that a system of self-regulation needs to be in place which has greater credibility so that people can be confident that lessons have been learned from the squalid events of recent years.”

The conference continues tomorrow with a day-long debate on the future of the industry which will cover a range of issues including privacy, super-injunctions, libel and the future of the PCC.