More than a quarter of local newspaper editors have received a threat from a public body to suspend advertising as a result of editorial activity, a new survey has suggested.
Local press trade body the Newspaper Society emailed all the local newspaper editors on its database for the survey and 37 editors took part.
The results are published today as part of Local Newspaper Week which has a press freedom theme.
Some 27 per cent of those who filled out the survey said they have received a threat from a public body to suspend advertising “as a result of journalistic activity such as a story being published, a query being made or a reporter attending a meeting”. Of those who had been threatened, 40 per cent had seen the threat carried out, the survey found.
Just eight per cent of those who responded said it was getting easier to get information from local public bodies, 22 per cent said it was about the same, and 70 per cent said it was getting harder.
Editors were asked: “Do you think the Leveson Inquiry and the events connected to it has affected the relationship of you newspaper with its readers?”
Some 49 per cent of respondents said yes, 46 per cent said no and 5 per cent were don’t kmows.
One respondent said: “There are readers – including local councillors, for instance – who have failed to make the distinction intellectually between national and local press and we have therefore been tarred with the same brush.”
Another said: “The proposal for an arbitration arm for any new regulator is a clear and present danger to the future of the local press and is a sure-fire way of lawyers making money out of us.”
They were asked : “Do you think that the current legislative and regulatory framework affecting the press has a positive or negative effect on press freedom?”
Some 43 per cent said it had a negative affect, 41 per cent said it had no effect and 16 per cent said it had a positive effect.
NS president Adrian Jeakings said: “This survey illustrates that the current legislative and regulatory framework affecting the press is already having a negative impact upon press freedom and the last thing we now need is to be subjected to yet more burdensome regulation.
“Local newspapers’ ability to hold authority and the powerful to account on behalf of their readers underpins local democracy in Britain and we are in serious danger of seeing this become irreparably damaged.”
Of the editors who responded, 57 per cent use Twitter to cover public meetings and 84 per cent publish video online.
Of those surveyed, more than a third (37 per cent) sent a reporter to cover a criminal court every day of the working week and, on average, local papers attend between six and 15 meetings of public bodies each month.
Other comments made by editors included the following: “It seems that these authorities' only aim is to protect their reputations rather than give useful information out to the public. Often this manifests itself in simply not getting back to us on queries and hoping we'll go away…
“The police and councils are more remote than before…
“The level and quantity of information given out by police now is a joke. Only a tiny percentage of reported crime is ever volunteered to the press and there's a generally slow and obstructive response when we make enquiries about crimes we know have occurred."