Local Press

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:54 am on 20th January 2009.

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Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation 11:54 am, 20th January 2009

I will not because we have limited time.

I have spoken to local journalists in York and the regional management of Newsquest. Of course, there is no appetite for public subsidy, but the company would welcome more Government and local government advertising, as my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland said. There are some legal requirements on public authorities to advertise things such as planning applications, road closures, other legal notices and so on, but I should like the Government, local authorities and public bodies such as health trusts to advertise more jobs in local papers. That could be made a statutory responsibility. If it was, regulation of charging regimes would be necessary, because many local papers have monopolies as paid-for printed papers in an area, but that could be resolved by negotiation between the Newspaper Society and the Government.

My hon. Friend Mr. Slaughter said that local authorities, health trusts and other organisations that publish their own reports should use local papers to print supplements instead of producing parallel publications. Rather than issue our own parliamentary reports once a year, which are paid for by the communication allowance, MPs could do something similar.

There needs to be a public debate about the scope for public funding for independent, private sector media. As I said, I see no problem with greater public sector advertising or with support for training. Public ownership of independent local papers would, I think, be wholly unacceptable—Pravda and Izvestia did not live up to the English translations of their titles, "Truth" and "News", so public ownership is out. However, a case can be made for some degree of cross-subsidisation. When I produced programmes for Channel 4 in the 1980s, hundreds of millions of pounds of Channel 4's revenue came from a levy on the ITV companies, and the fact that the Broadcasting Act 1980 guaranteed most of Channel 4's revenue—it was my most important customer—did not in any way undermine my editorial freedom, or that of Channel 4.

My programmes were pretty political. In 1983, shortly after the Live Aid concert, one programme made the case that famine in east Africa was not just bad luck or an act of God, but the result of climate change brought about by human behaviour. That is now a commonplace, but more than 20 years ago it was seen as a dangerous, left-wing idea. I made a programme about miners' wives at Bentley colliery during the miners' strike, documenting how they fought back by writing and publishing poetry.