Our Fighting Fake News campaign, which was the focal point of last week’s Local Newspaper Week, received the support of a number of prominent figures from the worlds of politics, entertainment and sport. Here are the views of a few of them.
Adventurer, broadcaster and writer Ben Fogle: Freedom of speech is a fundamental part of any democracy but, sadly, it is all too easily taken for granted.
The right to question authority, to hold power to account, and to expose wrongdoing faces a near-constant array of both direct and indirect threats to its existence.
But it is a right that must be defended at all costs if we in the UK truly believe in the core principles of democracy.
Overt attempts to censor the press through crude newspaper bans or draconian laws designed to clamp down on free speech must be firmly resisted.
And the more insidious dangers posed by the global rise of fake news cannot be underestimated. Local newspapers and their millions of readers are part of the fightback against fake news.
By producing high-quality, trusted local journalism, local papers actively counter the misinformation and falsehood which can spread so rapidly through other channels.
Through their reporting and campaigning, local papers hold councils and other public and private institutions to account, underpinning democracy at a local level.
They promote good causes and speak out on behalf of their readers on the issues that matter when they have nowhere else to turn.
And, as Local Newspaper Week’s Making a Difference campaign demonstrates, local newspaper campaigning delivers real, tangible results.
If we truly believe in democracy and free speech then we must reject censorship and fake news and stand up for local papers by supporting the fantastic work they do day in, day out across the UK.
I count myself as a firm supporter of local newspapers.
Ed Balls, former Shadow Chancellor, current Norwich City FC chairman and a Strictly Come Dancing 2016 contestant: Outside of the Westminster bubble, life is truly local.
Local newspapers are central to local life and are being read by bigger audiences than ever before, reaching more than 95 per cent of British postcodes. With its deep-rooted community links, the local media campaigns for positive change in communities across the UK. Notable campaigns showcased by Making a Difference this year include a campaign to raise money for local foodbanks, a drive to halt health-service cuts, and a call for tougher sentencing for dangerous drivers.
During my time as an MP, I saw first-hand how local papers underpin the democratic process at a local level, whether through holding local councils to account, conducting investigations to expose wrongdoing or reporting on the courts.
As a politician, I engaged regularly with local journalists – both local reporters based in my constituency and political correspondents based in Westminster – and I still do.
In my role as chairman of Norwich City FC, I speak regularly with the local media which so often is the first port of call for fans looking for the latest news about their club.
Football clubs of all sizes must embrace and foster their relationships with the local press because without it they lose a vital link to their fans and the wider community.
Like journalism, politics is fundamentally local and no-one understands local affairs better than the journalists who cover those communities.
And, perhaps most importantly, local newspaper readers know that their local paper is on their side and they trust what they read in its pages. Online, local news media content is nearly three times more trusted than social media content. Since leaving Westminster, I have watched the debate around fake news with great interest.
My hope is that at the end result is a new appreciation of the role journalism plays in our lives and how it defends and enhances democracy.
We must ensure that the people and businesses who want to invest their time and resources in creating and distributing highly trusted local news content are able to continue to do so.
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader: One of the first jobs I ever had was working as a reporter on a local newspaper in Shropshire and I have been passionate about their role in local communities across the country ever since.
Local newspapers are central to our democracy.
Local papers do so much more than simply keeping their readers informed. They are a glue that binds communities, celebrating local people’s achievements and accomplishments and, in equal measure, standing with them when challenges or obstacles arise. By reflecting the concerns, hopes and aspirations of different sections of the local community, local papers foster a spirit of understanding and cooperation. In this way, local papers will always make a difference to the towns, villages and cities which they serve.
Local papers are highly trusted and I am pleased to see the industry coming together to promote their credentials through the Fighting Fake News campaign. Through their unique insight to local matters, local newspapers can strengthen and promote democracy and the search for truth in the face of fake or fabricated news stories from other media sources.
I should add that I am a member of the National Union of Journalists and I admire that organisation’s work to defend local news.
Tim Farron, Liberal Democrats leader: The Liberal Democrats have always been strong advocates for the vital role that local newspapers play within a local community.
They are a critical component of democracy in this country and, in the run-up to the General Election on June 8, the role of trusted local journalism becomes even more important than ever. At a time when political ideas and arguments are being intensely debated and challenged, people rely on their local newspaper to cut through the spin and present them with the unvarnished facts about their candidates and what they stand for.
In the run-up to the General Election, it is essential for people to be able to access trustworthy information and make well-informed decisions. By investing in high quality local journalism, local newspapers enable and support this process which underpins democracy. Local papers report in ways that are particularly relevant to their local communities.
Through campaigns they galvanise the community on key local issues, as highlighted by the Making a Difference campaign. In doing so, local papers can produce real, tangible benefits for the communities they serve in a way that no other media can. I believe passionately in a bright future for local newspapers and a free unfettered press because they are so important for our democracy. Anything which impinges upon the ability of local papers to hold power to account must be resisted.
It is right for us to reflect on the vital role played by local press in this country. Highly trusted local news is the bedrock of democracy and the Liberal Democrats will always do everything we can to foster and support it.
Theresa May, Conservative leader: Great local newspapers are at the heart of their communities. They keep their readers informed and entertained, and help hold those of us in politics to account.
A strong and independent free press, unashamedly seeking out the truth and speaking that truth to power, is one of Britain’s proudest traditions. It is a pillar of our democracy.
The dedicated journalism of local reporters, combined with the campaigning muscle provided by trusted local titles, has helped to improve the lives of people in communities across the whole country.
It is important for us to remember that truthful, accurate and informed reporting from local papers can be a tremendous force for good. Local newspapers do not always make for easy reading for politicians, but that is just as it should be.
As the Government does all it can to ensure wealth and opportunity are spread across every community in our United Kingdom, I look forward to that work being scrutinised, challenged and reported on by a vibrant and vital local press.