09 Dec 2012
December 9, 2012

The media most MPs really fear

1 Comment

Just a quickie, this, because it’s so obvious.  Yet even though it’s obvious, it it’s still a funny wee thought at this special time (i.e. post-Leveson report, not the run up to Christmas) and, what’s more, I’ve never read anyone else say it.

What? OK, I’m getting there.  There’s layers upon layers of discussion and comment about why MPs say the things they do about the media, and, more granulated (but not subtly) about particular media groups.  But the big chat is always, but always, about the national media.  Much of it’s very critical, of course.  And quite right in a democracy, you may say.  Yep.  Quite so.

Yet the overwhelming majority of MPs never have any contact with the national media, so all that stuff is really about prominent MPs and the media groups of the day.  And when less well-known MPs pipe up about the national media, there isn’t a price to pay because they’re generally simply loyally reflecting what their senior colleagues are saying.

But what about local newspapers, where every MP has a close interest, particularly those with marginal-ish seats –  and where there may indeed be a price to pay for negative comment? Most local newspapers are owned by corporate monsters, like Newsquest and Johnson Press, who squeeze the profit out of them every bit as ruthlessly as national newspapers. Yet if you look at debates like this one this week, or any other on the subject, you’ll see that MPs are queuing up to say how brilliant in every respect their local papers are.  Oddly, it’s commonplace for MPs to point out how local newspapers serve as training grounds for future national journalists.  But wait, if the nationals are so crap and awful, that’s hardly a compliment, is it?

In the debate I’ve flagged above, Andrew Griffiths MP has some genuinely interesting things to say, notably about the hidden subsidy all local newspapers get through public sector advertising.  But the general theme of most comments is, as ever, how unbelievably fantastic the local journalists, editor, photographers — see below — tea-lady at the local newspaper (there aren’t any of those, made that up) are.  There’s little, if any, scrutiny of the values and standards which operate on local stories.  That’s because, in the end, it’s local newspapers most MPs truly fear – so we’re mainly staying schtum.  But that’s not really a national story, is it?  So few people outside politics or journalism know or care.

There are plenty of things to be said about business models, standards, pressures (leading to the removal of the post of editor from some) re: local newspapers; but don’t expect to hear about them at the House of Commonss

And my local paper?  The Falkirk Herald – the founding Johnson Press newspaper.  Brilliant, obviously.