Leveson praises regional and local press
LORD Justice Leveson singled out the regional press for praise, saying its contribution to local life was “truly without parallel” in his inquiry report published yesterday (November 29).
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 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.”
Archant chief executive, Adrian Jeakings, who is also president of the Newspaper Society, said: “The UK’s local media had nothing to do with the phone hacking scandal which prompted the Leveson Inquiry but we have been all too aware that hundreds of responsible regional and local newspapers would inevitably be caught up in any resulting new system of press regulation.
“We therefore welcome the Leveson Report’s praise for the important social and democratic role played by the local press, his acknowledgement that the criticisms of the culture, practices and ethics of the press raised in this inquiry were not directed at local newspapers and his recommendation that the regulatory model he proposes should not provide an added burden to our sector.
“However, local newspapers have always been vehemently opposed to any form of statutory involvement or underpinning in the regulation of the press, including the oversight by Ofcom proposed in the report. This would impose an unacceptable regulatory burden on the industry potentially inhibiting freedom of speech and the freedom to publish.
“We believe the industry is in a position to establish the sort of tough new system of independent, accountable press regulation with the power to investigate wrongdoing and levy fines envisaged by the report. All major news publishers – and some internet news providers – have indicated they will join such a system provided there is no statutory backstop. In practice, this independent self-regulatory system would almost certainly be stronger and more effective than any statutory model could ever be and could be put into place very quickly.
“Newspapers are ultimately accountable to their readers and must abide by the laws of the land. But, as the Prime Minister has today acknowledged, a free press cannot be free if it is dependent on and accountable to a regulatory body recognized by the state,” he said.