THE EDITOR’S CHAIR: I am angry that local press has been ignored
THIS week we saw the three main political parties in Britain reach agreement on a Royal Charter for Press regulation in the wake of the Leveson inquiry.
And what a dog’s breakfast our leaders have come up with after some tawdry politicking and secret negotiations in which only one side of the argument – the celebrity-backed lobby group Hacked Off – was invited to take part.
Monday’s Commons debate on the issue was nauseating.
‘Debate’ is probably not a very good description of what went on.
What we actually saw – with a few honourable exceptions – was a greasy orgy of backslapping and self-congratulation from MPs of all parties, most of whom had clearly not read a word of the Royal Charter.
I have. I read every word of it late into the night on Monday.
As you’d expect, I hunted through the document to see what was planned for local and regional newspapers like the Argus.
And do you know what I found?
Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
Not a single reference to the biggest and most widely read section of the written Press in this country. There are 1,100 local newspapers read by more than 30 million people a week in the UK and we’ve been utterly ignored by the very people who should be defending us.
I probably sound angry. That’s because I am. Bloody angry.
I have never and would never defend the criminal actions of the phone hackers and police bribers on some national newspapers.
What they did was outrageous and illegal. It should have been dealt with by the police and the justice system long before it was.
But local newspapers were innocent bystanders in this scandal.
Lord Justice Leveson acknowledged this in his report and in his recommendations.
Party leaders and many MPs have been quick to claim the Royal Charter sees Leveson implemented in full. It doesn’t. They are lying to you.
The Leveson Report made clear that local newspapers were not involved in the practices that prompted the inquiry.
It said any new regulatory model “should not provide an added burden to the regional and local press”. It said that “local, high-quality and trusted newspapers are good for our communities, our identity and our democracy and play an important social role” and that their “contribution to local life is truly without parallel”.
It said the government should “look urgently at what action it might be able to take to help safeguard the ongoing viability of this much-valued and important part of the British press”.
Every one of those words has been ignored in the cross-party deal. The detail of the Royal Charter – particularly the proposal to set up a low-cost arbitration arm – has the potential to impose crippling financial and time burdens on local newspapers.
But our MPs don’t care about that. Shamefully, they are happy to see the innocent being treated the same (if not worse) than the guilty.
And we will all live to regret it.
Double demands a sinful waste
WE ALL know local councils are short of money.
As a result they are making savings left, right and centre. Slashing services, closing libraries and community centres, and – in some cases – making people redundant.
Yet there still appears to be so much waste and duplicated effort within our local councils.
Here’s an example. This week I received – along with everyone else in Newport – my council tax demand for the 2013/14 financial year.
Like everyone else, I’ll be paying more for less in the coming year.
But I wonder how many people had my experience this week.
I had two envelopes delivered by the postman. Both were from the council, both contained an identical council tax demand for 2013/14.
The only difference was one included the words ‘South Wales’ in my address, the other didn’t.
Did any of our readers experience a similar double demand? Let me know. If this kind of waste of money is prevalent then that is where councils should be concentrating their cost-cutting fire first.