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McNae’s editor calls for LDR scheme to be extended to courts

Mark HannaThe BBC says it is currently “considering” ways to develop its local democracy reporting scheme after the co-author of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists called for it to be expanded to cover courts.

Mark Hanna, left, who is also a senior teacher at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Journalism Studies, wants to see the scope of the taxpayer-funded project increased – but has warned that it should not come at the expense of existing regional press court reporters or freelance journalists.

Currently, around 150 journalists are employed by regional press groups under the scheme to cover local authorities across the United Kingdom.

In February, a review by Dame Frances Cairncross into the future of news provision in the UK called for an expansion of the scheme along with the establishment of a publicly funded Institute for Public Interest News.

Mark’s own call comes after he praised Leicester Mercury reporter Adrian Troughton’s coverage of a truancy case at Leicester Magistrates’ Court, saying on Twitter there are “fewer reporters now in the regions to be at magistrates’ courts” and questioning whether this could be rectified with an expansion of the LDR scheme.

Speaking to HTFP, Mark said: “I hope that the Local Democracy Reporting Service can be extended to cover the reporting of courts and tribunals. We know that court coverage has declined. The Cairncross Review cited research saying such coverage had dropped by 40pc in regional newspapers in the four years from 2012 to 2016.

“But any expansion of the LDRS into court reporting, if the BBC or any other source of funds can achieve this, needs careful planning. It must not prompt any regional media to make any existing court reporters redundant, or make matters worse for the much-dwindled number of freelances who cover courts.

“Most court reporters mainly cover Crown courts, I suspect. Perhaps an expansion of the LDRS could, in the first instance, be confined to coverage of magistrates’ courts, civil courts and tribunals, and – if it does cover Crown courts – be designed to give some fresh earnings to freelances.”

Mark sits on a media working group set up by HM Courts and Tribunals Service to advise it on how open justice can be preserved and enhanced in the Ministry of Justice’s ‘digital reforms’ programme.

He added: “The whole issue of how journalism can help sustain and increase open justice needs a big rethink. For example, the Ministry of Justice should – as part of its ‘digital reforms’ – make access to civil and tribunal case documents easier and cheaper. It could put them online so reporters could start digging into stuff which rarely sees the light of day now.

“The civil courts and tribunals have never been covered extensively. We all know that important, societal issues feature in some of these cases, and in many of those at magistrates’ courts.

“There will never be enough resources to cover more than a fraction of cases, obviously. But – as a minimum – there needs to be enough journalists to cover the major ones, and they also need some time to dig around.”

In response to Mark’s call, a BBC spokesperson said: “We’re pleased with the success of the Local Democracy Reporting Service and are considering ways to develop our work in this area.”


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  • June 19, 2019 at 10:24 am

    Mark Hanna is well worth listening too. He has he experience and knowledge from his work as a journalist and teaching. Of course, we all have his book to hand.

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  • June 19, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    Actually disagree with this. Where I work we take pride in sending a reporter to magistrates court almost every day or at least when a decent case is on the list. No other media bothers to send anyone which means by committing some resources to court we get cases exclusively to us which make good print leads and digital stories. A taxpayer-funded service, such as the LDRs, would reward solely those media outlets who do not bother to send people now, not to mention negatively impact on freelancers and news agencies.

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  • June 19, 2019 at 1:39 pm

    That’s all well and good SeasideJourno, but my newsroom only has two reporters. One tried to cover four Borough Council’s while the other does the rest of the news including crown court.

    We very occasionally get to mags (which is now 35 miles away after our local court shut down) but the justice system is in such a mess that when we get there, the case might have been delayed or moved or the defendants don’t turn up (because the court is so far away..). We just can’t afford to spend a morning on what might be a wild goose chase.

    We know how important it is and we have our head in our hands sometimes when the results are sent to us and we see what we’ve missed but we just have no choice.

    Thanks Mark for raising this. From what I’ve heard I think some serious discussions are happening already.

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  • June 19, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    I can only apologise for my typos. Too little time, too much writing to do!

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  • June 19, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    But where is the copy that these Local Democracy Reporters produce ending up – on local news websites that you can’t navigate for the barrage of national news and/or advertising pop-ups?

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  • June 19, 2019 at 4:11 pm

    Midlander you have my sympathies over the limited resources. That sounds woefully inadequate.

    However, does that justify another public-funded service? I assume you may belong to a large media group which has chosen to cut staffing resources. If the company has grown so large it isn’t sustainable, is that the taxpayers’ problem? Should rivals be disadvantaged and freelancers and news agencies put out of work? I don’t think so.

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