NEARLY half of all local newspaper editors believe the Leveson Inquiry into press standards has negatively affected their titles’ relationship with readers.
The figures come from a survey of Newspaper Society member editors for this year’s press freedom themed Local Newspaper Week.
The wide ranging survey was conducted in the weeks before the Government’s Royal Charter for press regulation was published, prompting widespread concern about its impact upon the industry.
At the time the survey was conducted, 46 per cent of editors believed their papers’ relationship with readers had been negatively affected by the Leveson Inquiry, which was sparked mainly by the behaviour of national newspapers, and connected events.
One editor commented: “There are readers, including local councillors, for instance, who have failed to make the distinction intellectually between national and local press and we have therefore been tarred with the same brush.”
Another said: “The proposal for an arbitration arm for any new regulator is a clear and present danger to the future of the local press and is a sure-fire way of lawyers making money out of us.”
Forty-three per cent majority of editors said the current legislative and regulatory framework affecting the press had a negative effect on press freedom while just 16 per cent said it had a positive effect.
Forty-one per cent believed it had no effect.
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).
Newspaper Society president Adrian Jeakings said: “This survey illustrates that the current legislative and regulatory framework affecting the press is already having a negative impact upon press freedom and the last thing we now need is to be subjected to yet more burdensome regulation.
“Local newspapers’ ability to hold authority and the powerful to account on behalf of their readers underpins local democracy in Britain and we are in serious danger of seeing this become irreparably damaged.”
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.
Just eight per cent of editors said it was getting easier to get information from local public bodies, 22 per cent said it was about the same and 70 per cent said it was getting harder.