Local Newspaper Week: Celebrating the freedom of the press

Computer keyboard

Computer keyboard - Credit: Archant

THE ability of the regional press to scrutinise authority and hold the powerful to account is the theme of this year’s Local Newspaper Week.

The 2013 campaign is based around the theme of press freedom, highlighting how local newspapers’ remit to underpin local democracy is dependent upon their freedom to report without being restricted.

Nearly half of all local newspaper editors believe the Leveson Inquiry has negatively affected their titles’ relationship with readers, according to a survey of Newspaper Society member editors

Data protection (24 per cent) was cited as the single biggest obstacle to press freedom followed by libel (22 per cent), privacy constraints (22 per cent), self censorship in the wake of Leveson (19 per cent), court reporting and contempt restrictions (11 per cent) and self-regulation (three per cent).

More than a quarter (27 per cent) of local newspapers have received a threat from a public body to suspend advertising as a result of journalistic activity such as a story being published, a query being made or a reporter attending a meeting. Of those who had been threatened, 40 per cent had seen the threat carried out, the survey found.

Herts Advertiser editor Matt Adams said: “Millions of people place extremely high value upon the trusted local news and information provided by local papers. They trust their local paper to report accurately and fairly on the issues that matter most to their lives, but reporting on important events isn’t always as easy as it might appear.

“We believe passionately that you have the right to be kept fully informed about what is happening, but getting to the truth isn’t always easy and is certainly not something that should be taken for granted, and our job is to cut through the smokescreens and spin in order to get to the true facts of the matter, rather than merely report on tittle-tattle and gossip.

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“This is what press freedom truly means; our right to responsibly seek out the true facts on your behalf and present them in a fair, accurate and balanced way. Without this our democracy, and with it the basic freedoms we all enjoy, would be vulnerable to abuse by the rich and powerful, and those with vested interests to serve. Defending press freedom is about defending our basic rights as citizens and we believe passionately that they are of fundamental importance to us all.”

Over the past year alone the Herts Advertiser:

* Forced a county council U-turn over pedestrianisation plans for Harpenden High Street;

* Continued our four-year campaign opposing the rail freight depot plans for Park Street;

* Highlighted major delays in ambulance services which contributed to a major turnaround plan;

* Exposed the shortcomings of a major Green Belt development project at New Farm in Harpenden;

* Revealed the flaws in a town council bid to build an access road over a former allotment which was home to protected species;

* Forced a water company to take responsibility after four weeks of sewage leaks;

* Campaigned on behalf of St Albans market traders who felt the council wasn’t doing enough to support them;

* Took a hospitals trust to task over plans to introduce charges for disabled parking, leading to them putting the plans on hold;

* Launched a campaign opposing the proposed expansion of Luton Airport on grounds of traffic congestion and noise pollution;

* Challenged the county council’s policy of part-time street lighting;

* Have continuously kept up the pressure on train operators First Capital Connect following service problems.