LORD Justice Leveson has praised the role local newspapers continue to play - saying they are ‘good’ for our communities and democracy.
He singled out the local press for its contribution to ‘local life’ in his report into the newspaper industry, which was published today (Thursday).
Lord Leveson also highlighted the struggle for survival faced by many local titles, saying ‘their demise would be a huge setback for communities’.
His report said: “In relation to regional and local newspapers, I do not make a specific recommendation but I suggest that the Government should look urgently as what action it might be able take to help safeguard the ongoing viability of this much valued and important part of the British press.
“It is clear to me that local, high-quality and trusted newspapers are good for our communities, our identity and our democracy and play an important social role.”
He also said that while local newspapers were subjected to complaints over accuracy, the criticisms raised at the inquiry did not affect them.
Adrian Jeakings, president of the Newspaper Society, welcomed the comments made by Lord Justice Leveson in his report.
He said: “The UK’s local media had nothing to do with the phone hacking scandal which prompted the Leveson Inquiry.
“We therefore welcome the Leveson Report’s praise for the important social and democratic role played by the local press, his acknowledgement that the criticisms of the culture, practices and ethics of the press raised in this inquiry were not directed at local newspapers and his recommendation that the regulatory model he proposes should not provide an added burden to our sector.
“However, local newspapers have always been vehemently opposed to any form of statutory involvement or underpinning in the regulation of the press, including the oversight by Ofcom proposed in the report. This would impose an unacceptable regulatory burden on the industry, potentially inhibiting freedom of speech and the freedom to publish.
“We believe the industry is in a position to establish the sort of tough new system of independent, accountable press regulation with the power to investigate wrongdoing and levy fines, envisaged by the report. All major news publishers – and some internet news providers – have indicated they will join such a system provided there is no statutory backstop.
“In practice, this independent self-regulatory system would almost certainly be stronger and more effective than any statutory model could ever be and could be put into place very quickly.
“Newspapers are ultimately accountable to their readers and must abide by the laws of the land. But, as the Prime Minister has today acknowledged, a free press cannot be free if it is dependent on and accountable to a regulatory body recognized by the state.”
More to follow on this story as it develops . . .