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Local press exempted from Leveson criticisms

Lord Justice Leveson has praised local newspapers in his report into the industry, saying they were not affected by the issues surrounding ethics which were raised.

In his inquiry report published today, he singled out the local press for praise saying its contribution to local life was “truly without parallel.”

Lord Justice Leveson said that while complaints about accuracy and other issues were made about regional titles, the criticisms of the press culture raised at the inquiry did not affect them.

He also called for urgent action by the government to help safeguard regional newspapers after highlighting the declines in revenues they have faced.

The judge highlighted the struggle for survival faced by many local titles, saying “their demise would be a huge setback for communities”.

His report said: “In relation to regional and local newspapers, I do not make a specific recommendation but I suggest that the Government should look urgently as what action it might be able take to help safeguard the ongoing viability of this much valued and important part of the British press.

“It is clear to me that local, high-quality and trusted newspapers are good for our communities, our identity and our democracy and play an important social role.”

In his report, Lord Justice Leveson emphasised the decline in advertising and circulation revenues which had taken place in the regional press, with the former falling from a high of £3,133m in 2004 to £1,599m in 2010 – a much steeper fall than in national newspapers.

He reported that Trinity Mirror’s regional division saw revenues fall by 47pc between 2005 and 2010, Newquest’s fell by 56pc during the same period, Northcliffe’s dropped by 50pc and Johnston Press’ revenues fell 23pc.

He said there was “no simple solution” to the issue but this did not make it any less urgent.

The judge added that the model of regulation proposed in his report “should not provide an added burden to the regional and local press”.

In his executive summary he said: “As to the commercial problems facing newspapers, I must make a special point about Britain’s regional newspapers. In one sense, they are less affected by the global availability of the biggest news stories but their contribution to local life is truly without parallel.

“Supported by advertisements (and, in particular, local property, employment, motor and personal), this source of income is increasingly migrating to the internet; local councils are producing local newsletters and therefore making less use of their local papers.

“Many are no longer financially viable and they are all under enormous pressure as they strive to re-write the business model necessary for survival. Yet their demise would be a huge setback for communities (where they report on local politics, occurrences in the local courts, local events, local sports and the like) and would be a real loss for our democracy.

“Although accuracy and similar complaints are made against local newspapers, the criticisms of culture, practices and ethics of the press that have been raised in this Inquiry do not affect them: on the contrary, they have been much praised.

“The problem surrounding their preservation is not within the Terms of Reference of the Inquiry but I am very conscious of the need to be mindful of their position as I consider the wider picture.”

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