At the start of the new year I always like to thank the Editor and staff of The Chester and District Standard for giving me a regular column twice a month. It is a great way to communicate some of the work I am doing in Westminster and back home in Chester, and also to explain how Parliament works.
But this year I want to go further and pay tribute to The Standard, and local journalists everywhere.
These are tough times for local journalism. Traditional print media is suffering as circulation falls because people are getting their news online. Newspapers can’t charge as much for advertising, and online advertising is still dominated by giants such as Google and Facebook. So funds are dwindling locally.
Yet news still needs to be reported even if the method of delivery is changing. We still need active local journalists. And these are businesses which still need to make a profit.
Local newspapers don’t just tell us what’s happening in our neighbourhood. They’re an essential part of the glue sticking communities together, defining an area’s identity.
And in Chester our local papers, such as The Standard, provide something else: reliability.
Look at many national newspapers, too many of which are owned by billionaires with their own political agenda. Next time you pass a news stand, ask yourself, is the headline really news, or is it opinion? Is it trying to make you think in a certain way? But local newspapers are just that – newspapers, not opinion sheets.
They also provide an antidote to that 21st Century phenomenon, fake news. This isn’t just what President Trump calls any story he disagrees with. Fake news is a political tool. We are seeing increasing evidence that Putin’s Russia successfully interfered in the Euro referendum using fake news accounts on social media to influence voters to vote to leave the EU, and the Russians are trying this tactic in French and German elections too.
Websites from the political left like The Canary, or the hard right, such as Breitbart, were set up to peddle a line irrespective of accuracy.
I sit on the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and we’ve just started an inquiry into Fake News. It’s all very murky, but we intend to get some clarity.
But one aspect we won’t need to examine is the local press in our region. These may be tough times for local journalists, but let’s not take them for granted. They provide a service and a cohesion every community needs, and I for one am grateful.