Local Press

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:49 am on 20th January 2009.

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Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Minister (Scotland) 11:49 am, 20th January 2009

My hon. Friend makes an important point: newspapers are very important for the elderly.

What can the Government do to help? They could do a lot by advertising—I am talking about public information, not propaganda. For example, they could advertise advice on where to apply for benefits such as pension credit, healthy living campaigns, notices of road closures, and consultations on planning applications and traffic management scheme proposals. Such things have got to be advertised in the local press. Simply putting planning applications, and traffic management and parking proposals, on the council's website is not good enough.

In the recession, there will be pressures on the public sector to cut back in all areas, and it could be tempting to cut back on advertising. However, I would urge the Government—they could encourage the whole public sector to do likewise—not to cut back on advertising in the local press. That is an important means by which the public sector can get its message across and engage with local people, and it is important for the survival of local newspapers, which are heavily dependent on advertising. Clearly, the recession has meant that commercial advertising is decreasing, so public sector advertising is important.

I am delighted that the BBC Trust and Ofcom have come out against the BBC local video news proposals. They would have meant unfair competition, so I hope that we have seen the end of them.

My message to the Government and the whole public sector is this: promote the local press, ensure that it is protected from unfair competition, and use it for advertising and consultations. Local communities and our democracy need a free, independent and vibrant local press.