Thursday, 16 July 2009

Local media plays vital democratic role - and must be protected

A number of rumours have bee swirling around lately concerning the future of the erstwhile Argus (or Evening Anus to its more loyal readership).

It seems its owner Newsquest has floated the idea of moving the print operation to Southampton, threatening more than 50 local jobs - and inevitably the quality of journalism (media maxim: when printers go, journalists soon follow)

So today we councillors will discuss how we can support the rag, which provides such an essential role in the city, and the jobs of those it employs.

Newsagents are under fire too (they are reported to be closing at the rate of more than one a day) - and of course this comes on top of the threat to local jobs posed by the coming of Starbucks and Tesco to St James's Street.

Anyway, a motion to be considered at today's council meeting could see the Office of Fair Trading called in to investigate the local newspaper trade – and the impact of falling sales on newsagents.

Really, this about protecting a vital local service – and hundreds of jobs – from the ‘onslaught’ of multi-national competition and poor regulation.

The Argus – and other local media – play a key role in ensuring we have a vibrant local democracy, and this council has a duty to promote that. On the contrary though – it’s increasingly placing is adverts in in-house publication like City News, and leaving local papers feeling the pinch.

If it really wants to safeguard jobs and help local communities more than its friends and donors in big-business the Government must look again at laws relating to transport, planning, waste management, housing and regional development as well as consumer protection and business regulation, to protect all local business – especially media outlets - from predatory practises and unfair competition.

If the Government doesn’t do this: we’ll see newsagents closed, just as we have seen local post offices go. We’ll see media companies move, threatening local employment.

Protecting a vibrant local media is just too important a job to be left to the vagaries of the free market.

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