Government agrees to talks with NUJ on regional press

The Government responded to the crisis facing newspapers today by announcing it was undertaking an investigation to see what could be done to help the industry.

Media secretary Andy Burnham said that he had asked Lord Carter, the communications minister, to look at the local news media as part of his work on developing digital communications in Britain and agreed himself to meet the National Union of Journalists.

"We do need to take a very careful look at local news outlets in the current climate to see whether more creative ways can be found to sustain high quality media at the local level," Burnham said.

He told MPs that Lord Carter will be taking on this work through his report on Digital Britain.

Scottish Labour MP Katy Clark had asked him about the prospects for the local press during questions in parliament this afternoon.

Burnham said he had met the Society of Editors last week. He said: "I have asked Lord Carter to take a specific look at the local news media in his work on Digital Britain."

Lord Carter is due to produce his report at the end of the month.

Clark told the minister that the Herald in Glasgow, as part of Newsquest Glasgow, had asked all journalists to reapply for their jobs and intended making 40 editorial posts redundant despite making a profit of £23m in 2007.

She asked him to meet the NUJ to discuss this and the wider issues affecting the regional media.

The minister told her: "I feel for those people who have lost jobs at the Glasgow Herald."

He said he would agree to her request to meet with the National Union of Journalists.

"I recognise local newspapers are facing pressures both in the current economic climate as well as structural change."

He told MPs that newspapers' share of advertising had fallen sharply.

Tory MP Richard Ottaway asked him to order an investigation into the expected purchase of the London Evening Standard by former KGB operative Alexander Lebedev to ascertain whether he was a "fit and proper person" to own the newspaper.

Burnham said: "Whatever changes are in the offing for the Evening Standard it should maintain its character and its journalistic standards."

He said the nationality of the person owning it was less important than his plans for maintaining the Standard's character.

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