More than a quarter of local press editors say councils and other public bodies have threatened to pull advertising as a result of editorial coverage, a survey has found.
It found that 27pc of local newspapers have received a threat from a public body to suspend advertising as a result of journalistic activity such as a story being published, a query being made or a reporter attending a meeting.
Of those who had been threatened, 40 per cent had seen the threat carried out, the survey found.
Researchers also found that 70pc of editors said it was getting harder to get information from public bodies, with only 8pc saying it was becoming easier.
And nearly half of all editors believe the Leveson Inquiry has had a negative impact on their titles’ relationship with its readers.
One editor commented: “There are readers – including local councillors, for instance – who have failed to make the distinction intellectually between national and local press and we have therefore been tarred with the same brush.”
Data protection was cited by 24pc of editors as the single biggest obstacle to press freedom followed by libel (22pc), privacy constraints (22pc), self censorship in the wake of Leveson (19pc) and court reporting and contempt restrictions (11pc).
NS president Adrian Jeakings said: “This survey illustrates that the current legislative and regulatory framework affecting the press is already having a negative impact upon press freedom and the last thing we now need is to be subjected to yet more burdensome regulation.
“Local newspapers’ ability to hold authority and the powerful to account on behalf of their readers underpins local democracy in Britain and we are in serious danger of seeing this become irreparably damaged.”