Page last updated at 18:25 GMT, Thursday, 19 March 2009

MPs fearing decline of local news

Stack of newspapers
MPs say local journalism engages people in their communities

Redundancies and office closures in local and regional media have put the future of local news at the "top of the agenda", the government has said.

Culture minister Barbara Follett said the government would "work tirelessly to secure news for local communities".

Tory shadow arts minister Ed Vaizey called for a relaxation of competition rules relating to media ownership.

An Early Day Motion, signed by 73 MPs, says more than 1,000 local news posts have been lost since last summer.

The motion also expresses regret at the closure of dozens of local newspaper offices.

Among the most high-profile developments is Guardian Media Group's closure of the offices of its weekly titles in the North West, with the loss of 150 jobs.

"This will be a devastating blow to the community," Cheadle MP Mark Hunter told the House of Commons debate.

'Perfect storm'

Some 40 million people read 1,300 regional and local newspapers daily or weekly, Mr Vaizey claimed.

But the publications now found themselves in "a perfect storm", he said.

"Not only would they be having to radically change their business models in any event because of the advent of the internet, but they are also now having to do that in the face of perhaps the toughest recession this country has seen in our lifetime."

Mr Vaizey said that competition rules that had prevented a single organisation having a dominant impact on an area were unnecessary with the proliferation of online information sources.

He said: "We urgently need to sweep away the rules of media ownership that prevent consolidation of local newspaper groups and alliances between local newspaper groups and commercial radio companies."

New partnerships?

Ms Follett said there was potential for new local media partnerships to emerge.

"We must explore partnerships at a local level - private and public sector ones and ones which involve local government, which has tended to turn to other methods of getting its news across."

She added: "We will work tirelessly to secure news for local communities in every part of the country that maintains the high standards that have long been associated with British journalism."

Journalism website Holdthefrontpage says the regional newspaper industry is in a "state of turmoil".

Most of the main regional publishers have undergone restructuring in the face of the "twin challenges of the recession and the continuing migration of advertising revenues to the internet", it says.

"Managers say they have no option but to retrench if their newspapers are to survive in the longer-term, but many journalists say the lifeblood is being ripped out of their titles," the website says.

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