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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Carlisle MP highlights local newspapers’ key role

Newspapers such as the News & Star play a vital role in holding public figures to account, says Carlisle MP John Stevenson.

John Stevenson photo
Carlisle MP John Stevenson, left, during a webchat session at the News & Star with online editor Ian Brogden

But he is worried that plans to remove local government advertising from newspapers will undermine their viability and so damage quality journalism.

The Department for Transport is consulting on proposals to remove the requirement for local authorities to advertise traffic orders in local press.

Ministers estimate this will save £20 million a year nationally.

Mr Stevenson fears this will harm an industry that is already under pressure.

Speaking in the Commons, he said: “Local newspapers have experienced a triple whammy.

“They have lost revenue from adverts relating to housing, car sales and job vacancies. They also now have competition from the internet, which makes it far more difficult to be financially viable.”

Several daily papers – including those in Bath, Scunthorpe, Lincoln and Torquay – have switched to weekly publication in response to falling revenues. Mr Stevenson’s main concern is that job cuts will make it harder for papers to pursue investigative journalism.

The Conservative said: “Local media hold institutions and individuals to account.

“When I was a [Carlisle city] councillor, there were 52 of us but probably the most important person in the council chamber was the local journalist who reported the council’s proceedings to the wider public.

“Had he not been there, who would have known what was decided?

“We must remember that it is not just politicians whom local media hold to account.

“It is local businessmen, the police, NHS and other organisations including schools and colleges.

“The danger is that local papers just start to reproduce the press releases that everyone sends out rather than challenging what has been said.”

Mr Stevenson backs the Government’s decision to restrict the number of free newspapers and magazines that councils are allowed to produce, which he says are “often just political opportunism”.

He added: “We must ensure that the BBC is also properly financed so that we have high quality local media.

“Where possible, I should like to see local TV stations reporting local news rather than national and regional news. If we can ensure that we have a vibrant local media, it will enhance our democracy.”

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