The case for safeguarding regional journalism within the public service funding sphere has long been clear as far as this newspaper concerned. And if TV3 and regional radio stations feel they should be getting some slice of the licence fee, the case for newspapers being afforded some level of State protection is inarguable.
Of course, such assistance, were it delivered, would have to come with a pre-condition that the State could not influence what is published, or more significantly, what isn’t by this or any other regional title.
“All the news that’s fit to print” is an editorial tagline that should always be adjudicated in-house or within the confines of a newspaper’s ownership or majority shareholding. Otherwise, we’d be in the sort of press environment that best pleases dictatorships, even benign ones. Such an outcome in our democracy cannot be countenanced.
Speaking in Manchester on Tuesday last, British Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the future of local/regional journalism, and how its decline is, as the Guardian put it “a threat to democracy and is fuelling the rise in fake news”. Mrs May’s government is to initiate a review which will establish if the British State may need to intervene to preserve both regional and national newspaper titles, and one has to wonder would our Government consider a similar review on this side of the Irish Sea?
“Good quality journalism provides us with the information and analysis we need to inform our viewpoints and conduct a genuine discussion,” said Mrs May.
The closure of newspapers, the British Prime Minister added, “is dangerous for our democracy. When trusted and credible news sources decline, we can become to vulnerable to news which is untrustworthy. A free press is one of the foundations on which our democracy is built and it must be preserved.” We could not agree more.
Communications Minister Denis Naughten has spoken with vigour and passion about the delivery of the National Broadband Plan, which, as things stand, is by no means guaranteed given the convoluted procurement process which still has to be administered. But it would be welcome to hear him channel some of that energy towards the preservation of regional journalism which, given the repeated cutting of resources by national titles into local reportage, has become more relevant now than ever since the printing presses first rolled on this island.
The regional press certainly has a strong case when it comes to securing greater public service advertising from both central and local government and could certainly play a greater role as a public consultation facilitator when it comes to major Council projects and developments. Despite the prevalence of the internet, older readers still prefer the printed word when it comes to accessing news and information and Councils ought to bear this in mind.
In his seminal history of Irish newspapers published in 1983, author Hugh Oram stated: “Somehow, something will happen to save the newspapers.” Well, we are a great deal closer to the time when something will have to be done to ensure researched and responsible journalism remains on our news stands.
An expanded Communications Charge, as a replacement for the licence fee, might go a long way towards ticking that particular box.And politicians, many of whom established their reputations on the column inches this title and others have provided them with, ought to do more to ensure local news continues to be researched and written locally.