'Local press needs level playing field on subsidies'

  • Press decline poses ‘severe’ threat to local democracy
  • Culture Minister Ed Vaizey could meet with regional newspaper chiefs
  • MP repeats calls for state subsidies for local press

Conservative MP Louise Mensch has called on the Government to launch a review into the local press amid fears its decline poses a ‘severe’threat to democracy.

At a Westminster debate on the state of the local press Mensch reiterated her calls for the Government to introduce more subsidies and tax advantages for local newspapers to create a ‘level playing field”.

“The threat to our local democracy is severe,’she said. ‘It is often only the local press that will hold an incumbent member of Parliament or a local council to account, because only the local press and only local people really care.”

She asked Culture Minister Ed Vaizey to hold a review into the state of industry and explore whether there was a case for direct or indirect subsidies to local newspapers.

She said: “Whether it is indeed by the placing of advertisements to support the local papers, whether we can look at community models of ownership such as have been successfully trialled in football supporters’ trusts, for communities that wish to take over and run their local papers.”

Mensch added: ‘When we look at indirect subsidy in the case of a licence fee, such as that that is proposed to support local television stations, I think we need to ask ourselves whether or not a level playing field for the local press is something that we wish to support.

“If after all the BBC is supported on taxpayer funded subsidies and council freesheets are supported at ratepayers’ expense, and local television stations are indirectly supported by compulsion for the BBC to buy their content, why should local newspapers possess none of these advantages when they offer an irreplaceable function?”

Mensch attacks ‘Town Hall Pravdas’

In response to her concerns Vaizey said he would be happy to discuss the situation with companies that run the UK’s local press,

r Vaizey said: “We have relaxed media ownership rules to allow local newspaper groups to merge, we have conducted a consultation on traffic regulation orders which has just concluded, we have restricted the use of councils to use free sheets, we have introduced local television which I think will….support local newspapers, we continue to support community radio.”

He added: “I will happily organise a series of meetings with the managing directors of newspaper groups, be it Johnston Press or Newsquest or Northcliffe if honourable members would find that helpful.”

Mensch went on to attack so-called ‘Town Hall Pravdas’ – free newspapers distributed by local authorities.

She said council-run newspapers were “cannibalising’the local press, adding: “It is completely unfair and completely wrong that ratepayers are asked to subsidise something that puts their local paper out of business.

‘All we ask for is a little fairness to preserve something that is so important to our national life.”

Mensch has been raising awareness of issues surrounding the local press since Johnston Press announced last week two daily newspapers in her constituency, the Northampton Chronicle and Echo and Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph, will become weeklies from next month.

Johnston defended the decision by saying it planned to roll out iPad apps across many of its local titles.

“Residents of my constituency in Corby were unbelieveably insulted to be told that the Corby Evening Telegraph will be replaced by an iPad app which excludes people on low incomes and elderly people who are not familiar with the internet,” said Mensch.

  • To contact the Press Gazette newsdesk call 020 7936 6433 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

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