Clegg attacked over 'highly damaging' claim that newspapers are like 'desperate' animals

  • NS president tells Clegg local press is most trusted media
  • Local press hit  by the 'most prolonged and damaging economic downturn in living memory'
  • Society will 'fiercely defend independence of the UK press'

Regional press body the Newspaper Society has criticised Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg over his “highly damaging” remarks made at the Lib Dem conference last week – when he compared the press to “desperate" animals.

Adrian Jeakings, the society’s president and chief executive of newspaper group Archant, is now seeking a meeting with Clegg to discuss his comments.

Clegg made the remarks when questioned on the future of press regulation in the UK, blaming declining circulation figures for the behaviour of the press.

“The written press is an industry, it's a bit like animals around a disappearing waterhole,” he said. “They are fighting over an increasingly small pool of customers.”

Clegg added:

What's happening in the British press, because they are becoming more desperate, because people are accessing their information in increasingly different ways, I really doubt that my children ... when they get older they are going to buy a newspaper in the traditional sense.

So of course what you have got, which is almost inevitable, you are getting an increasingly shrill, ferocious tone, at times almost hysterical tone, as newspapers worried about their own futures try and keep their heads above water."

Jeakings has since written to the Deputy Prime Minister defending the local and regional press. He quoted recent figures from a Mediatique report for Ofcom which found that "the local press in print and online is the second biggest spender, after national press, on news in the UK accounting for £490m or 24 per cent of the total – more than is spent on TV news or online news".

Adrian Jeakings

He also noted that Clegg himself and acknowledged the local press was the UK’s most trusted media during his speech at the Newspaper Conference last year, when he said: "The underlying strength of your newspapers seems to be growing rather than diminishing. You’ve got more and more readers and crucially you have rates of trust in what you produce which is the envy of many other parts of the media.”

Jeakings said:

Unsurprisingly, the local press – along with nearly every other industry in the UK – has been hit  by the most prolonged and damaging economic downturn in living memory.

But despite steep declines in our main source of revenue – advertising – which is a barometer of UK economic performance, we are reaching bigger audiences than ever before across our multimedia platforms.

Regional press advertising revenue are forecast to be sable and back in modest growth by the second half of next year, although this is of course dependent on the wider economy improving.

Jeakings told Clegg that regional press companies were “resilient, innovative and committed to the highest standards of local journalism”, adding: “Despite what you say, I am quite sure that we will continue to fulfil our unique vital role for the local communities we serve for many years to come.”

During the conference Clegg also said the test for the new regulatory regime was whether it would meet the concerns of victims of phone-hacking and questioned whether it would be possible to have an independent regulator to work without some form of statutory framework.

Jeakings warned that the NS would “fiercely defend the independence of the UK press as a whole from any form of political of statutory controls”.

The society requested a meeting with Clegg to brief him on the state of Britain’s local press.

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