Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
Roy Greenslade, Jeremy Dear, Simon Edgley and Lynne
6 December 2010
Good afternoon and welcome to our inquiry. For the sake of our
records, could you please begin by introducing yourselves and
the organisations you represent?
I am Roy Greenslade. I am Professor of Journalism at City University,
London. I write a media blog for the Guardian and a weekly
media column for the London Evening Standard.
Jeremy Dear: I
am Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists,
which represents people who work for council publications and
Good afternoon. I am Simon Edgley,
Managing Director of Trinity Mirror Southern. We publish a range
of about 30 to 40 local newspapers and websites around the M25
I am Lynne Anderson and I am Communications Director at The Newspaper
Society. We represent about 1,200 regional, local and independent
You are most welcome. You probably heard some of the evidence
we have already had from local government. One thing they raise
is that these days local newspapers give very little coverage
to affairs in their local councils. I can remember being a councillor
in Sheffield in the 1970s and 1980s and there would be reports
of sub-committee meetings, let alone committee meetings, and now
there is hardly a mention of the council meetings themselves.
Do you think that is a legitimate criticism and one that opens
the way for councils to do more in terms of information?
Simon Edgley: No,
I don't. The way people source their information now is very
different from 10 or 15 years ago. From my perspective and certainly
within my own newspaper group we have a significant number of
journalists who still attend council meetings. Quite clearly,
they are not able to do that in ways they used to. The newspaper
industry has gone through an incredibly difficult time in the
last three or four years. We have just been through the biggest
downturn we have all seen in the last 30-odd years. We still
have front-line journalists in our particular patches. One thing
it is important to state is that we have had a lot of criticism
for not having offices in local areas. One of the gentleman mentioned
that earlier. In our own organisation we have just turned all
our journalists remote, so they spend more time in the patch now
than they ever used to because they are given technology to be
more local than they used to be. I do not take that as a criticism.
We are still at the heart of everything local and we intend to
continue to be so.
Jeremy Dear: I
disagree entirely. Council publications cannot replace independent
local journalism, but the fact is that 68% of editors in a Society
of Editors survey believe that they now cover council functions
less than they used to, so it is a fact that there is less coverage.
When I was a working journalist rather than a trade union official
I covered subcommittees; I covered planning committees.
The vast majority of the stories we got were from council meetings
and council coverage. It is just not the case that there are
people dedicated to doing that. Despite the best efforts of newspaper
companies and journalists, they simply do not have the staff any
more to be able to cover it in the way they did. You see the
correlation between that decline and the expansion of a whole
number of different council publications.
The industry still employs about 10,000 journalists and they still
cover council activities and decisions as their bread and butter.
There has been a documented change in terms of the Local Government
Act 2000, which introduced Cabinet-style council meetings where
we are told a lot of decisions are taken behind closed doors.
To have a local Government reporter sitting in council meetings
just to get perhaps one small, down-page story is quite unproductive.
The way councils are covered has changed; readers' tastes and
attitudes have also changed, but they are still out there doing
it and they are the only voices who can hold local authorities
to account. Certainly, council newspapers are not capable of
doing that themselves.
Where residents do not have a local newspaper, isn't it reasonable
that the council in its effort to communicate with its electorate,
its citizens, should produce information in some form, whatever
that form might be; otherwise, those local residents will have
nothing in writing about what is happening in their local council?
Simon Edgley: I
think that is a key point. As a local newspaper publisher, we
have absolutely no issue with a council's statutory right and
indeed it should be able to communicate with its residents on
issues of council business and information. We believe the issue
becomes clouded where councils have weekly publications that are
effectively weekly newspapers that cover gardening, what is on
and all that type of thing. That is where the issue arises.
The issue becomes stronger where they start to compete with us
for local advertising. They are able to run these publications
on a completely different model from any commercial organisation.
In my own area, you may be aware that we have been at the forefront
of a campaign against Hammersmith and Fulham News, which
is a publication that costs the ratepayer a significant amount
of money and is out there. I was interested to hear earlier the
figure of £1.2 million worth of advertising going to
council publications. Hammersmith and Fulham claim that its number
alone will be something like £400,000 in 2010-11.
You have made a point about weekly papers, but there are only
two weekly council papers in the country. That is a small number
of examples but the code deals with everything and every authority.
Simon Edgley: There
are certainly more than two in London; it is a significantly greater
I am told there are two weeklies and seven fortnightlies.
Simon Edgley: Seven
fortnightlies give rise to the same issue, don't they, because
they are competing?
It is still nine councils?
Simon Edgley: Yes.
So, we shouldn't generalise on the nine, should we?
Simon Edgley: But
the point I make is that there is a significant number of council
publications that take third-party advertising. Third-party advertising
is incredibly important to the local newspaper industry. Therefore,
they are competing on an entirely unfair basis, when we are running
a business on a commercial basis and they are not.
Jeremy Dear: It
is important to look at the whole relationship. The figure I
have is that £68 million of advertising goes from local authorities
into local newspapers, and print contracts are worth about £80
million across the UK. Simon's company, Trinity Mirror, has a
£4.1 million print contract for eight publications in London
for councils, including one of the ones he is complaining about,
presumably East End Life. There is very much a mutually
beneficial relationship as long as there are restrictionsI
agree with him on those pointsabout some of the content
and nature of the publications that try to emulate local newspapers.
They should not be able to do that.
The problem here is that East End Life is a unique publication.
What has really concerned The Newspaper Society and the commercial
sector is that it represents the thin end of the wedge. If we
allow East End Life to stand and do what it does, it will
be emulated elsewhere; at least at the moment by fortnightlies
but maybe by weeklies in future. I know that Barking and Dagenham
council saw that as very much a template. You have to see East
End Life as a template. It is quite clear from all we know
that East End Lifein fairness, this is the only
example I can findhas had as marked effect on the sales
and revenue of a major commercial newspaper, the East London
Advertiser, a paper I remember from my youth that was once
very successful. But we know that East End Life is in
that sense unique. For instance, I came across a situation in
which one of the reporters at East End Life had sought
to obtain a pass to cover a royal event by claiming that they
represented Trinity Mirror. How did they do that? Trinity Mirror
happened to be the printers of East End Life. There is
an irony involved in this. The main problem here appears to be
about six or seven publications of which East End Life
is the leader. It is that that concerns the industry so much.
Around the rest of the country, it is not at all as prevalent.
Q46 Mike Freer:
I go on to the issue of what drives the decline in local newspapers.
Several years ago, Trinity Mirror, or rather Newsquest, its American
owners, had a policy of deliberating disengaging from print and
going to an online version. They encouraged residents to post
their own stories, and to move away from print was marked strategy.
Therefore, are you not a victim of your own success?
Simon Edgley: In
spite of what others have said before me, our life is about maximising
audience. People choose to gather their information in very different
ways from the way they did before. As to paid-for newspapers,
there is the very good example in Mr Blackman's constituency
of the Harrow Observer. That has traditionally been a
paid-for title, and as a result of ensuring that we maximise our
audience in that borough, we have just turned that paid-for newspaper
into a free newspaper. Our strategy in a borough like Harrow
is to make sure we reach the maximum audience both by the printed
word that goes through the door and through our websites. Effectively,
the strategy of most publishing companies now is to move to a
model where they reach audience by a combination of platforms.
It is very interesting to hear the public notice argument at
the moment. Our belief is that we have to deliver information
in whichever way people require and wish to receive it. The public
notice argument is incredibly important. There will be people
who would want to receive that type of information online; equally,
there is still a significant number of people out there who would
wish to read that in their local newspaper. When two or three
years ago we lost the public notices to Newsquest from the Ealing
Gazette we received a significant number of phone calls from
residents asking where the public notices were. We must have
the ability to deliver that information in whichever way people
require it. But our strategy going forward is to maximise audience
as far as possible. That is both an online and print strategy.
Q47 Stephen Gilbert:
If I may explore an issue with you, Jeremy, on page 2, second
paragraph, of your submission you say: "But there has been
an inevitable reduction in quality and local focus leading to
a spiral of declining sales amongst local newspapers." It
may be there is a regional difference in this, but that is just
not a picture I recognise in my constituency. I am blessed to
have five weekly titles, three are Northcliffe and two independent.
There is healthy competition. The two independents are fairly
recent entrants to the market. The journalists are unremittingly
local and imbedded in all the local issues, often attending not
just full council meetings but others. In most cases the year-on-year
sales of the newspapers are going up. All five of them are excellent
ambassadors for what a good local newspaper should be. I would
say that, wouldn't I? The question is: is there regional variation
in the picture you describe? Is some of this a London or urban-centric
issue, and the more rural parts of the country and places like
I represent have thriving local newspapers with journalists doing
Jeremy Dear: With
the best will in the world, all of us wherever we come from would
probably recognise that there has been a significant decline in
the numbers of sales of newspapers; certainly, there has been
a significant decline in the numbers of journalists over the past
three or four years for the reasons Simon mentioned: the newspaper
industry has been through an extremely difficult time. We would
put different reasons for that. We believe there is less local
ownership of newspapers. We mentioned the American ownership
of Newsquest but there is also now City, hedge fund and private
equity ownership of groups of newspapers that are less local and
therefore less accountable. But wherever you have these five
competing papers with increasing sales and more journalists, it
is some kind of paradise that is not reflected in the vast majority
of the rest of the industry. We have given some figures about
the thousands of journalists' jobs that have gone recently and
the titles that have merged. Titles have been closed down or
taken out of the areas they represent. Some towns now have no
local newspaper covering them, so it is a very difficult time
for the industry. I do not recognise what you are saying as being
Q48 Stephen Gilbert:
So, there may be regional variations, which is the point I am
trying to make?
Jeremy Dear: There
may very well be.
By the way, where do you live?
Stephen Gilbert: Just
to the north of Newquay.
Q49 Mike Freer:
A lot of the thrust of this evidence is that it is unfair competition
by local authorities, but what the Committee looks for is data
and evidence, not anecdote, which it has yet to receive according
to my understanding. First, can we be provided with information
that precedes the current burst of local authority activity and
clearly shows a correlation between the fall in advertising as
well as readership and this activity by local authorities, or
that the decline started long before local authorities became
more active? Second, in terms of advertising revenues, can we
be provided with hard data to show that the trend is not just
symptomatic of the recession? When I speak on a regular basis
to the editors of my local papers, the Hendon Times, Finchley
Times and the Barnet Press, they tell me that their
biggest loss of revenue is estate agencies and car sales, which
is recession-driven and not local authority-driven because a local
authority publication does not take paid advertising. Therefore,
can we have hard evidence to prove your case on those points?
I do not think anyone suggests that local authority publications
are responsible for all of the challenges that face the newspaper
industry. There are 1,200 regional and local newspapers and they
cover every part of the UK. The industry has faced significant
challenges during a crippling recession, but even in the worst
year of closures, which was 2009, we saw a net reduction of 60
titles out of 1,200. That was approximately 5% of the total.
Nearly all of those closures were free weeklies that were second
or third in their local marketplace. This year we are seeing
more launches than closures of local papers. There has been a
lot of publicity about the prediction by Enders Analysis that
half of the industry's titles would close down in five years'
time. They have now publicly retracted that forecast, saying
that it was unduly pessimistic. We need to put things slightly
in perspective in terms of the socalled decline.
There have certainly been job losses among journalists
but I would say that other job functions have been much harder
hit. I know that publishers endeavour to keep front-line reporting
jobs particularly wherever possible. Our statistics show that
the proportion of editorial jobs to the total workforce has grown
quite significantly over recent years. In the past 12 years it
has grown from about a quarter of editorial staff to approximately
one third. To put that in perspective in terms of the industry
and what it is going through, we do not want to wait, as Roy said,
until we have versions of East End Life across every borough
and locality in the UK. In a crippling ad recession, with all
the other challenges that are well documentedGoogle and
various other threats from the internetyou do not need
your local council competing with you for scarce advertising revenues.
Those are the very advertising revenues that keep those journalists
in their jobs. We would say that councils should not be in the
business of competing. Some hard evidence of this emerged from
the Audit Commission, which admittedly did not have very much
financial data in this area. It said that it could not in its
report really look at the impact, but it did show that 150 council
publications in England alone took private-sector advertising.
That is advertising that could have gone into local papers and
that is unfair, damaging competition.
Q50 Mike Freer:
Those are 150 council publications out of how many?
I believe it said it was roughly half of all English council publications.
I believe it said that 90% of all councils in England produced
some sort of periodical and approximately half took private sector
advertising, which obviously could have gone to the independent
local media and is competing with it. I stress that The Newspaper
Society and its members have absolutely no objection to the traditional
type of council publication like an A-Z of council services or
newsletters published up to four times a year. I am slightly
curious about why quarterly is not sufficient, when the Local
Government Association's own submission said that the majority
of council publications are quarterly or less, so obviously it
works for them.
Q51 Mike Freer:
To clarify that point before we move on, there is not a correlation.
You are concerned that it does not get worse but you do not blame
all of the ills of the newspaper industry on local Government?
No; we never have.
Mr Freer, to be absolutely frank about it, there is no data.
There are two examples, one of which I have quoted, East London.
But you would need to correlate those figures and I have not
done that. The other is probably Hammersmith and Fulham, although
I think you would agree that the local paper there started from
a very small base. Therefore, I do not think those data exist.
Q52 Mike Freer:
I just wanted to make it clear before the Minister came in.
We do not want to get in a pickle.
Jeremy Dear: Tabloid
editors, eh. What can you do?
Q53 Clive Efford:
Local authorities want to get their message out to people in the
areas they represent. They would say that their distribution
is better than yours and more extensive, so why should they rely
on very minimal coverage of bought local newspapers? What is
your answer to that?
Simon Edgley: The
numbers that I heard quoted earlier of about 20% to 30% are not
ones that are familiar to us. We cover a market in a variety
of ways, as I described earlier: through websites or through paid
for or free. As a general rule of thumbagain, I quote
Harrow as an examplewe cover about 60% to 65% of households
in that particular market. Interestingly, at the moment in Hammersmith
and Fulham we cover 92% of households in that market. As you
probably know, we had a particular objective in that market and
it appears we are moving forward on that, but the vast majority
of local newspapers have significant coverage in their particular
localities. It varies regionally. As you know, in London, where
the issue has arisen in particular, a significant number of local
newspapers have now gone to the free model. You can look at what
we have done in Hammersmith and Harrow. To quote another example
of one of these types of newspaper, Greenwich Time, that
publication has about a 60% to 65% penetration of the market.
Q54 Clive Efford:
I know Greenwich very well because I am a Greenwich MP. The council
beats the free local newspapers hands down in its coverage. I
can talk to my constituents and they will have read Greenwich
Time. Many of them do not get the free newspapers.
Simon Edgley: Yes.
As you know, the local newspaper in that particular area used
to have the contract to distribute Greenwich Time.
Q55 Clive Efford:
And lost it because they could not provide the coverage.
Simon Edgley: Just
because we don't happen to distribute a newspaper through a particular
door, we have the ability to do service distribution as well.
I hear what you say, but I do not think coverage is a complete
argument in terms of saying we cannot reach the ratepayers that
you wish to reach.
Mr Efford, do not forget that Greenwich Time has a record
of being, to use the Minister's own phrase, a town hall Pravda
in the sense it does not cover, fairly and honestly, local matters.
We have to come back to content on this question, too.
Q56 Clive Efford:
I have been quoted locally as saying that I would not describe
it as a local newspaper because, for instance, it is restricted
in the number of times that I can be in it.
But does it purport to be a local newspaper?
Q57 Clive Efford:
I would not have thought so. In terms of Trinity Mirror, don't
you want your cake and eat it? You want the revenue from the
advertisements but also the income from printing local Government
newspapers. As we heard in earlier evidence, the poor old local
taxpayer would have a bigger bill because they would have to pay
you for statutory notices and other items but still would have
to pay the cost of producing various information sheets that would
have to go out. Are you not asking for more money from the local
Simon Edgley: I
make two points. The number quoted earlier of £543,000 seemed
an extraordinary number. In my 30 years of working in newspapers
that is not a number I have ever heard a local authority spending.
It is fine to discuss the rate card rate for a particular set
of public notices, but I have been in negotiation with various
councils for a significant amount of time about what they should
pay for their public notices and clearly the negotiated position
I get to is very much adrift of the rate card. I would be surprised
if a newspaper group continued on that front. Perhaps you would
repeat the second part of the question.
Q58 Clive Efford:
The second part of the question is that it is the ratepayer who
Simon Edgley: Trinity
Mirror's position is that we are a contract printer; the contract
printing business is there obviously to sell business and to take
on business that comes its way. Quite clearly, as pointed out
earlier, the manufacturing division of Trinity Mirror does have
the contract for a significant number of council publications,
but it almost adds strength to our argument. To say we fully
support the code that suggests that these publications go out
a maximum of four times a year, which would represent a significant
hit to Trinity Mirror's revenues, demonstrates how strongly we
feel about this point.
Q59 Clive Efford:
Would you support the idea of a review by the Office of Fair Trading
of the impact of local authority publications on independent publications?
The OFT has already noted the adverse impact of local authority
publications in its report in, I think, June 2009. The subsequent
Digital Britain Report asked the Audit Commission to look into
it. The commission did not really want to; it said it could not
look at impact. Finally, after a lot of buck passing and delays,
its report came out in January of this year. We have already
experienced significant delays on this. I do not think that an
OFT review would add much; it would take us right back to square
Q60 Clive Efford:
You say that the OFT has already commented on it.
Yes; in its local media review in the spring of 2009.
Q61 Clive Efford:
Was that based on an inquiry? Did it take evidence?
It took evidence from various parties.
Q62 Clive Efford:
The information before us is that, in the last session of the
Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, the Chief Executive
of the OFT, John Fingleton, said he did not think there was a
case for the OFT to consider with regard to local authority publications
and competition for advertising.
As I said, there was quite a lot of buck passing at the time and
no one was willing to grasp this and take control of it. At the
time we were looking for an OFT review because that would have
been great, but now it seems that the Coalition Government is
trying to tackle this issue through the publicity code and we
have come closer to dealing with the problem of competition.
Q63 Clive Efford:
So, you are happy with the code and do not see the need for an
As long as the code can be enforced, yes.
I take the opposite view, which I think is the basis of Mr Freer's
original question: no proper impact assessment has been done.
Jeremy Dear: From
our point of view, the most comprehensive work that has been done
has been that undertaken by the Audit Commission, and that does
not support the argument that is being made. I think an OFT investigation
would be good and we support it.
Q64 Clive Efford:
Do the restrictions imposed by clause 28 of the code relating
to the style, content and frequency of local authority periodicals
deal adequately with issues such as web-based publishing and third-party
We have not touched much on the web, although the local Government
witnesses did. The truth is that we are moving towards a much
more unmediated coverage of all sorts of things in our world.
I was pleased to hear today that Southwark council has decided
to allow people to record both video and audio of council meetings.
I put that on my blog and I hear immediately that they already
do that in Bristol, Cardiff and Cornwall. This means that we
are seeing greater transparency. If you can then obtain audio
and video clips, they can be put up by anyone. Southwark has
been pushed to do this by a website, not the local paper, and
it has been working with the council to do it. I think we shall
seeof course this is not a popular view with The Newspaper
Societya huge new range of media starting up that will
use these new tools to do that. This can go onto council websites
as well; there is no reason why council websites cannot put up
speeches, in favour or against, in the council chamber. One needs
to make an appreciation of that. Whatever is decided here, over
the next five or 10 years we will see a huge change, as in the
previous five years, in the way we see media develop. We need
to keep that in mind as we decide whether or not suddenly to take
this sledgehammer to crack a nut.
Jeremy Dear: We
agree with some aspects of clause 28. They should not seek to
emulate local newspapers in style or content. That is something
on which we all clearly agree, but there is an unnecessary attempt
to restrict them to quarterly. There are regional variations
in media and to use one size fits all simply does not seem to
us to do the job that people are trying to do here, which is to
stop those who are abusing their position and make sure that there
can be both a viable local independent media but also council
publications where they are necessary.
Q65 Mark Pawsey:
Perhaps I may go back to statutory notices. I note Mr Edgley's
remarks that he is significantly adrift of rate card but it is
still a guaranteed income. Recognising that at this time of recession
the industry is in a difficult position there have been
title lossesit must be very useful to your industry to
retain that guaranteed income being paid for by Government. What
is the case for your keeping it, and what are the consequences
if you lose it over time, which presumably you must expect to
happen as the new media come to the fore and it is no longer there?
Simon Edgley: It
goes back to the point I made earlier. The industry has an absolute
commitment that it needs to be more creative going forward in
terms of the way we deliver that audience. If you go back 15
years, in most paid-for newspapers public notices would have reached
70% to 80% of the market. That is what paid-for newspapers do.
Our challenge with public notices is that I think there is a
challenge on ratein other words, costand also a
challenge on delivery, which is ensuring that we reach a similar
number of eyeballs as we have in the past. That is the challenge.
It takes us back to Roy's point. People choose to access information
in a very different way from the way they used to. We need to
be able to take local information that we have as a core strength
and deliver that across a set of platforms, and I think we will
have to do that in the case of public notices as well.
Q66 Mark Pawsey:
Have you made any representations about putting that data in a
form that is more user-friendly?
Simon Edgley: Absolutely.
We are currently working with various local authorities, including
Harrow, to present their public notices both in print and online.
And that is the case across the industry, where local newspapers
are sitting down with their local councils to try to come up with
the most cost-effective and effective solutions. It is important
to remember that the reason why both the last Government and the
Scottish Parliament in the past year rejected the idea of moving
such statutory notices out of printed newspapers and have them
just posted on council websites was that members of the public
told them that they looked to their local papers for these statutory
notices, and it is an important part of the public's right to
know and access information, and not just to have these things
hidden away on a council website, where sometimes it might possibly
be in a council's interest to have it hidden from the public gaze.
That is the situation at the moment but it will change over time.
It is quite clear that if the Government moves broadband out
in the way Jeremy Hunt suggestsI say that name very advisedlyand
what he says is true, then gradually we will see a huge expansion
in the take-up. As we see that expansion it will need to change.
In fairness to The Newspaper Society, it also recognises that
in what it has just said.
Jeremy Dear: I
think you have found the one issue on which we are in complete
Q67 Mark Pawsey:
Would the loss of this business at the margin lead to a loss of
titles in your view?
We will lose titles whatever happens.
Q68 Mark Pawsey:
Will it contribute to it?
Look, we are seeing a huge squeeze on advertising. Somebody has
already mentioned real estate. We have not even got into sex
ads, but they are now gradually being taken away from newspapers,
quite rightly, and we see statutory notices under the gun. The
only revenue at the moment for newspapers that is significant,
especially in an era when you see more free newspapers, is advertising
itself. That is a huge strain. But if newspapers can gradually
transfer their brands from print, which is hugely costly both
to print and distribute, to online there is no reason why in a
digital future they should not still prosper.
Q69 Bob Blackman:
We have had some evidence on this but I want to clarify the position:
how many of the newspaper publications produced by councils are
now produced by members of The Newspaper Society, that is they
are printed and distributed by them?
In terms of all types of publications?
Q70 Bob Blackman:
I refer specifically to newspapers. What we are talking about
now is whether a council newspaper outweighs a local newspaper
compared with, say, a quarterly magazine produced by a council
that clearly is not a newspaper. We are talking about competing
I do not have numbers, but I have always been encouraged that
local newspapers, where they have a contact print facility, sit
and work with their local authorities and help them with their
communication needs. If that is a quarterly magazine, that is
absolutely right; or, if it is something stitched into the local
paper that works very well. Some of these publications have evolved
into monthly, fortnightly, even weekly, and, yes, the local papers
often still have the print contracts. I do not have the actual
figures, but, as Simon said, the strength of feeling in the industry
towards these competing publications is such that they would be
willing to forgo that revenue from frequent publications, because
the fundamental principle at stake here is that local authorities
should not compete with independent local papers.
Q71 Bob Blackman:
Presumably, taking your position, Mr Edgley, if you felt so strongly
about this as a company, you could say to Hammersmith and Fulham
or whoever, "We don't want your business and we won't bid
for it. If you can get it printed somewhere else, good luck,
but we don't want your business."
Simon Edgley: We
could do so.
Q72 Bob Blackman:
If you feel so strongly about it?
Simon Edgley: To
pick up Lynne's point, we publish in Reading. We have a very
strong and close relationship with Reading Borough Council; indeed,
we publish monthly its council information sheet within the title.
We do not have an issue with that because there is not an issue
with content because it is very much newsletter-type. We also
do not have an issue with it because it does not vie for third-party
advertising. One important thing to understand, which goes back
to Mr Freer's point, is that in the vast majority of cases most
local newspapers have very good relationships with their local
authorities. In my experienceI deal with about 11 or 12I
have regular meetings with the chief executives of those local
authorities and the relationship is incredibly good. We do a
lot of partnership things together for the good of the borough.
At the end of the day we are in the same business of doing great
things locally. That is what we do and why we have a good relationship.
Q73 Bob Blackman:
You are moving from the sale of newspapers to free newspapers,
which is where the industry is going generally, but is it not
the case that that is to get coverage for advertising in general
but also the newspaper might be doing reasonably well?
Simon Edgley: Yes,
absolutely. It is regionally different. We publish in Guildford
where we still sell 22,000 copies of the weekly paid-for newspaper.
London is a very different model. If anybody sitting here 10
years ago had suggested that somebody would sit outside a tube
station and give away the London Evening Standard, he would
have been regarded as completely barmy. The model is changing.
You are right that it is about audience because at the end of
the day if we can deliver audience, we can then commercialise
that with advertising revenue, which is what keeps our industry
going and employs all the journalists to whom Jeremy referred
Q74 Bob Blackman:
Mr Dear, you represent journalists who work for the newspapers
and also now councils. How many journalists have been taken on
by councils to produce these newspapers?
Jeremy Dear: We
represent about 800 people who work in those different functions.
How great the density of membership is in those I cannot be absolutely
clear, but the vast majority of those are people who worked on
local newspapers and now work on council publications. First,
generally they are slightly better paid on council publications;
but, second, knowing that I was to give evidence some people wrote
in to say that they had become enormously frustrated at not being
able to cover a whole number of things in local areas because
of lack of resources. In some cases they have those resources
in council publications that they do not have in local newspapers.
Our argument is to try to create that balance, not take away
statutory notices that mean newspapers have to close down but,
equally, not to say that the vast majority of council publications
cannot perform a complementary function to what local newspapers
are doing. There must be a balance there.
Q75 David Heyes:
The Secretary of State said he was determined to strike a blow
for freedom of the local press and produced a code of practice.
Is that powerful enough for The Newspaper Society in particular?
Will it be enforceable in the way you want to see?
We have raised concerns about how enforceable it will be. The
spirit of it seems to acknowledge the threats and anti-competitive
aspect of what some local authorities are doing. I hope that
loopholes will be filled and it will be enforceable.
Q76 David Heyes:
What should be done? What are the loopholes and what should be
done to fill them?
We have talked about an overarching principle. Government has
advised local authorities in the past that it should not duplicate
or compete with existing services that are provided by commercial
companies. We need some sort of principle that makes that clear.
We are assured that that can be enforceable. We understand that
some local authorities might view it as advisory rather than regulatory
and would seek to ignore it or find ways round the guideline,
so it is a legitimate concern.
Q77 David Heyes:
It is a continuing concern?
Q78 David Heyes:
Are there any other views on that?
Jeremy Dear: I
think the seven principles in the code are good. The question
is: how do you put those into practice? For example, to restrict
frequency seems to me not to match some of the other principles
that are in the code. The principles are good but the practice
would unnecessarily restrict council publications.
We do not want to see council publications that take a single
point of view, and there are odd examples of that in some of the
papers in London, where they quite definitely deserve the Pravda
nickname, but spin is always a subjective matter. Complaints
continuously come into my blog from journalists to say that they
are forced by their commercial owners to spin things in a certain
way. Simon talks about working together, but there are plenty
of councils that complain to me that the local papers are far
too negative in their coverage. One of reasons for town hall
papers, as they are called, is that they redress the balance.
The area that you have touched on is the most difficult to police
in a sense, because to decide what is impartial, objective and
neutral is the most difficult thing for any of us to do. That
takes us to the subject of enforcement. It seems to me that what
is not in the consultative document is what would happen if any
council defied this particular code.
Q79 David Heyes:
Some would argue that the existing code has been defied already.
I am not out of sympathy with that point of view. That is one
of the interesting things about whether or not one needs this
code. Frequency is one thing but content needs a closer look.
Jeremy Dear: One
thing that is missing from the code is the protection afforded
to people who work on local authority publications to be able
to resist pressure put on them to be partisan and political because
they do not have access to the district auditor to complain; they
need a workplace remedy, be that a conscience clause in a code
of conduct. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations has a
code; we have a code of ethical practice to allow people to say
that they are being asked to do party-political work and that
they should be able to refuse to carry it out, rather than work
about the council as a whole.
Chair: We will have to
draw things to a conclusion at this point. The Minister is to
come in, and one or two points you have raised with us we will
put to him directly. Thank you very much indeed for your evidence.