“Local newspapers hold public authorities to account. They report on council meetings – and taxpayers know if their money is being spent wisely. They publish police appeals – and witnesses come forward.
“They cover court cases – and communities know when justice has been done. And they scrutinise local politicians – so voters know if their MP is working in their interests.
“Second, local papers continually fight for their communities, agitating for change, and, very often, succeeding. With their commitment to campaigning on local issues, local newspapers aren’t just breaking the news, they’re making it.”
The gushing words of praise prime minister David Cameron lavished on the regional press when he agreed to support the Newspaper Society’s Local Newspaper Week during 2014.
Sadly, he seems to have forgotten just how much he values the regional press, if actions of his party’s spin doctors in recent weeks are anything to go by.
First off, there was the demand that all local journalists wanting to possibly attend Tory Party campaign events seek pre-accreditation, with a £20 application fee for anyone who didn’t do so quickly.
And this week, there have been several examples of a heavy-handed approach from the Conservatives towards the local press.
Which, I’m glad to say, have been duly reported by those newspapers.
According to the Huddersfield Examiner:
The Examiner wasn’t alone. The Yorkshire Post found itself excluded from getting to see Cameron in action inside this factor:
And nor was this a one-off act of oddity by the Conservatives. The Nottingham Post was on hand to cover a visit earlier in the day by Cameron in Nottinghamshire, and got similar short shrift.
The Post was asked by Mr Cameron’s team to send three questions almost 24 hours in advance that we planned to ask him.
But on the day, only one question was allowed, and one of the Prime Minister’s aides stopped us from discussing more local details.
For example, we were stopped from asking about the target to see 95 per cent of patients in four-hours, which has not been met by Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust in months, and about the “internal incident” that was called in January because of winter pressures.
We were also stopped from asking about the £23 million of the ‘Better Care Fund’ allocated to Nottinghamshire, as local experts say £100million more is needed for south Nottinghamshire alone.
Cameron’s attitude and approach to the local press isn’t just at odds with his fine words about the industry last year, it is at odds with the behaviour of others in his party.
Ex-leader William Hague for example, got a good show in the Gloucestershire Echo today, and appears to have given reporters there time for a decent discussion about the importance of a local seat to the Tories:
Even finding time to play a fun game of choice – eg red sauce or brown sauce. And Hague’s willingness to talk to local journalists got him a spread in the Swindon Advertiser too.
And the Labour Party battle bus appears to be anything but off-limits to regional journalists, as Lancashire Telegraph reporter Bill Jacobs found out when he was invited aboard to talk about East Lancashire issues with Ed Miliband:
And not to be left out, the Lib Dems are also enjoying a strong showing – again thanks to giving the local press access.
Here’s today’s Daily Echo:
Like Hague, Clegg’s message was one about the importance a seat held to the fortunes of his party. And, like Hague and Miliband, Clegg and his spin doctors appear to know that the best way to get votes in key seats is to talk to the local media.
Cameron, it would seem, doesn’t seem to get it. I’ve heard similar stories about chancellor George Osborne too.
It’s not a difficult concept to grasp: People who read local news are more likely to vote because they are more interested in what goes on around them. Local newspaper brands now reach far more local people than any other media, and more people than they have reached for probably the last 30 years.
Treating local journalists with contempt seems an odd way to get your message across.
For a man whose background is in PR, this prime minister seems to be very good at generating the wrong local headlines…