Burnham: 'A way has to be found to sustain journalism'

The government’s long-awaited Digital Britain report will “lift the whole quality” of regional news, culture secretary Andy Burnham has said.

Burnham told reporters at a Broadcasting Press Guild briefing yesterday that sustaining local journalism was a “crucial” part of communications minister Stephen Carter’s report, which is due out later this month.

He said the recent scandal over MPs’ expenses proved that the public valued quality journalism – and he was doubtful that online news could replace the work done by local papers and broadcasters.

“What we’re very clear about is that we need news at regional, sub-regional and local level beyond the BBC,” Burnham said. “That is an absolutely firm commitment. I’ve argued for it long and hard.

“In the current climate where people want empowerment as citizens and want to challenge and hold people like me to account, it’s crucially important that we have quality news beyond the BBC.

“It will allow new thinking and new ways of providing more localised and more high quality news and in doing so you help local newspapers and you overall lift the whole quality of what’s offered.”

He added: “The crucial thing for me is citizens need content produced to high journalistic standards. The internet in my view will not replace that.

“Old ways of paying for that are changing. But such is the importance of this in a democracy that a way has to be found to provide it and sustain it.”

Burnham refused to go into detail about the contents of Carter’s report, but he hinted that some of the recommendations would require legislation to be passed.

Asked how hopeful he was that time would be found in parliament for this to happen before the general election, Burnham said: “I think what we’re talking about here is quick and targeted and clever change.

“It’s not necessarily about major principal legislation. Lots of this does not need legislation but it’s likely that some of the proposals will.”

He added: “We’re not at the point where we’ve made decisions or reached deals or the ink has dried on stuff. We’re at the end game of those discussions. I wouldn’t want to pre-judge those at the moment.

“Stephen [Carter] is working flat out right now. He’s done a superb job and we’re in good shape. The government collectively is clear about its thinking and its vision. It’s a very very very high priority for the country.”

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