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Gordon Brown tells Leveson: ‘We need a local press’

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has highlighted the importance of the local press at the Leveson Inquiry – but said there are not enough resources to support quality journalism.

Speaking at the inquiry yesterday, Mr Brown said his local newspaper, understood to be the Fife Free Press, had just had its editorial staff merged with those at the neighbouring title and said this was a problem throughout the country and even across the world.

He said: “As you know, there’s a debate about whether the BBC should be in local radio, whether it should simply be commercial radio, and how the integration of local newspapers with local broadcasting, with local television and local radio should happen.

“It’s clear to me, however, that without some underpinning — and it may be financial — then there is a market failure here.

“There is not enough resources now to support the quality journalism that you are talking about. My own local newspaper has just had its editorial staff merged with the next door newspaper.

“They’re running down the numbers of staff that are providing this local service and I think you would find this in every part of the country that you go into, and more than that, you’re finding it all across the world now, because an internet journalist, who is someone who’s sort of doing their own, if you like, self-journalism, can put their views up on a screen and put their views across the world, but if they’re not resourced and they’re not doing proper research and there’s no investigative journalism, then we’re diminishing the quality of the output that is available to us.”

At the inquiry, Mr Brown highlighted the problem of a lack of advertising facing the regional press and said he sees a local newspaper “going under” every week.

And he said the model used by the BBC could be used to fund quality journalism in the future.

Mr Brown said: “Is the BBC model of any use to us? I think we ought to look at that. It certainly deals with this issue that there is a public good that the market cannot supply, and it certainly deals with the issue about how you might apply this to the Internet, as well as to broadcasting, because there is a zero cost in getting to millions of people once you get to the first thousand of people.

“I would think that if we are genuine in trying to root out the bad but also trying to encourage the good, I think we to have to say something about how quality journalism in this country can be financed, supported and really sponsored in the future.”

He also commented on the importance of having a local press, saying organisations are not properly held to account without one.

Added Mr Brown: “This is why I defend the freedom of the press and the right of the press to have the powers that they have, because without shining the light on potential corruption or maladministration or the abuse of power – and that’s true at a local level as well as at a national level – people get away with doing things in an unaccountable manner that are completely unacceptable, and that’s why you need a local press.”


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  • June 12, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Some rather obvious stuff but always nice to hear high level people being aware of our situation.

    The BBC stuff is interesting though. The national BBC stuff is very important and generally done well.

    But at local level it’s beyond poor. It’s simply stealing audience and from local papers, news websites and commercial radio and denying them potential revenue.

    The local BBC radio station plays the same awful music such as Westlife and Annie Lennox as the commercial stations, but without the adverts. (A disservice to local businesses?).

    The presenters are usually a bit better but still spout a similar brand of braindead nonsense like films with types of cheese in the title.
    Production values are a bit higher, but surely local stations would be able to invest more if they were able to wrestle a some of the huge share of audience the BBC takes up.

    News on BBC radio and websites is basically full of stuff taken from local papers or press releases. There’s very little independent journalism.
    The bigger features are usually stuff the papers have covered a week or two ago.

    My local BBC TV news seems to cover Northampton, Norwich, Cambridge, Ipswich, parts of Essex and Peterborough. These places have nothing in common. Who cares about a hospital story 200 miles away or the plucky pet tortoise singing Auld Lang Syne from the wilds of the Fens when you live on the edge of the Cotswolds?

    The BBC’s local offering is anti-competitive, shallow and generally pretty rubbish really.

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  • June 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Well said Gordon. But I don’t see the idea of taxpayer-funded ‘underpinning’ catching on.
    The government may keep one current Press back-hander going – whereby councils are forced to pay extortionate fees to advertise road and planning schemes and the like. (And that’s double your money in Wales with its daft compulsory duplicate ad in Welsh.)
    But I wouldn’t even bank on that in these austere times.
    As for the hope of getting other subsidies? About zilch!

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  • June 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Gordon Brown is right, the market is failing, and funding for local newspapers a la BBC could be what we need to save our industry.
    PS Curious: “daft compulsory duplicate ad in Welsh”
    It’s not “daft”. It’s simple. Wales has two languages.

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  • June 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Thanks Peter. Do the papers in Cardiff publish news in Welsh – it being in the land of two languages – or is it just the taxpayer-funded expensive ads? I rest my case.

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  • June 13, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Good for Gordon Brown for dragging Leveson away from its nauseating navel-gazing and on to the small matter of press survival. But…

    “there is a zero cost in getting to millions of people once you get to the first thousand of people”

    What? Zero cost? The BBC’s web operations cost us all an absolute fortune but we’re fed the fiction it’s free. Nationally, its website is best in class, but locally it’s offering nothing you can’t already get elsewhere – in other words, it’s contributing to market failure, not making up for it.

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