Scots join Westminster debate about the future of local journalism

HALF a dozen Scots are among more than 70 MPs to have put their name to an Early Day Motion at Westminster against cutbacks in local journalism, as junior culture minister, Barbara Follett, yesterday said local government and regional newspapers and broadcasters should consider partnerships as a means of protecting the sector and “securing news for local communities”.

The MPs are Angus Robertson, Katy Clark, Jim Devine, Jim Sheridan, John Mason and Mark Lazarowicz.

Follett was speaking in a debate about media ownership. Some newspaper groups were accused by MPs of “creaming profit and not investing”.

On Wednesday, the National Union of Journalists is staging a lobby at Westminster on local and regional journalism. It estimates that, since last year, nearly 2,000 jobs have been lost from regional newspapers, television, radio, and websites, including at ITV.

The motion, presented by John McDonnell MP, calls on the Government to explore providing state support, but only in return for guaranteed investment in local journalism.

In full, the motion reads: “That this House regrets the trend of cutbacks and lack of investment in local journalism by the owners of local news providers; notes that since the summer of 2008 over 1,000 editorial posts in local news have been cut or left unfilled and that dozens of local newspaper offices have closed despite local newspapers remaining viable and profitable businesses from which huge sums having been returned to shareholders over a number of years and where the pay of directors has rocketed; …

“…further notes that local journalists are over-worked, often being forced to cover wider areas owing to staffing cutbacks; further notes that coverage of court trials, council meetings and local elections is in massive decline; re-affirms a commitment to high quality local journalism as an integral part of engaging people in their community, strengthening local identities and democracy; believes that Government action in this area must focus on supporting local journalism not simply propping up companies that have already extracted millions of pounds from their businesses whilst cutting investment in editorial resources; ..

“…and therefore calls on the Government to explore innovative solutions to preserve local journalism and to ensure that state support, either in the form of deregulatory measures or financial help, is given only where firm guarantees on investment in local journalism are secured.”

Ahead of the NUJ lobby, the union’s General Secretary, Jeremy Dear, said: “It is important that as many people as possible lobby their MPs by letter and in person. We need to demonstrate to them that we are serious about standing up for journalism. Please write to your MP even if they have signed the EDM – we need to create some momentum for the campaign.”