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Local News Media

Volume 491: debated on Monday 20 April 2009

11. If he will bring forward proposals to provide support to news media organisations for the provision of local news. (269393)

I am well aware of the intense challenges facing local news providers, including radio and television as well as local newspapers. Building on my recent discussions with relevant bodies, I will hold a summit at the end of this month to discuss options for local news services.

While the town of Congleton retains its local newspaper, the Congleton Chronicle, which is not part of a national news media group, many offices in rural constituencies, including mine, have closed because of the centralisation of news coverage to places such as Manchester. Is the Secretary of State concerned that local people will not be able to access news about court proceedings, council proceedings and so forth unless they have a local news service? How can that best be delivered?

I certainly understand the hon. Lady’s concerns; indeed, they are shared across the House. Part of the answer is market forces, as newspapers operate in a market, but I think we would all agree that local newspapers perform a vital public service at local level and are crucial to the health of local democracy. I hope that the hon. Lady will attend the seminar I have called in Portcullis House next week, as I would be interested in debating the available options. It is, of course, difficult for local news organisations to make the transition to the fully digital era. There is pressure in respect of the cost of newsprint and a difficult advertising market, and structural challenges are arising together with the pressures in the economy. We all care enough to hope that we can plot a way forward for local news organisations, which we should work towards.