Thursday, 18 November 2010

Standing up for local media - and jobs - in face of US onslaught

Today and tomorrow journalists at The Argus are striking over plans by the papers' US owners to sack sub-editors and move the paper's production to Southampton.

I've just got back from a wintry morning standing alongside them outside the paper's Hollingbury HQ: I was delighted to see a really good turnout, of local politicians (here's a few, pictured: myself with fellow Green Councillor Pete West, Hollingdean and Stanmer election candidate Luke Walter and Ben Parsons, local NUJ rep).

Overturning the plan really matters, for three main reasons.

Firstly, decent local jobs must be protected, now more than ever. For a company (US-based Gannett in this case) to seek to cut costs by sacking staff might just be acceptable if that's the only way it can keep the business alive, and therefore protect other jobs - but there can be no excuse for it when it's simnply about increasing profits.

Secondly, to protect the quality of our city's journalism. I don't always see eye-to-eye with the Argus, but it plays an essential role in reporting what happens in our city, especially by the council and police authority members elected in all of our names.

It's essential in a functioning democracy that this oversight is provided by the media, and replacing skilled journalists who boast local knowledge with overworked, underpaid and remote replacements will make this function of the paper weaker then ever.

And thirdly, there is a really important principal at stake: the local media must be controled locally. An effective local paper must be part of the community it serves.

The Government should introduce strict new laws governing media control to ensure this: no UK local media should be owned by foreign or multinational companies at all. Otherwise their freedom - and therefore all of our freedom - is ultimately at stake.

Imagine (you wouldn't be far from the truth) if all local papers wree owened by foreign companies who viewed their role not  as keeping the community informed but turning a profit for their shareholders.

This whole saga shows that we need tough new laws preventing foriegn ownership of local media, not rules that allow the Argus to be run by the same company that owns USA Today.

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