Listening to local voices
The importance and legitimacy of democratic debate
THERE has been much talk recently of the importance and legitimacy of democratic debate, and of hearing other voices, opinions and points of view – even when we don’t agree with all or even any of them. The Hackney Citizen hopes to continue to play a role in facilitating such debate, alongside other local papers and magazines in the borough.
Commenting recently on the role of local papers, Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian said: “Communities need information; local politicians and officials need challenge; citizens need a voice.”
Guardian writer Roy Greenslade similarly observed: “We take for granted that they [local papers] are essential democratic tools. Similarly, we assume that they help to foster community spirit, acting as agents for social cohesion. I admit that I share those assumptions. No paper, no information. No paper, no accountability.”
The Government’s (previous) culture, media and sport secretary Andy Burnham recently called a summit to look at the problems facing the local press, which is suffering from loss of advertising revenue. Mr Burnham told his audience: “Strong local media are vital to a healthy democracy, and provide a crucial and trusted service to their communities.”
Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, appearing before the parliamentary select committee for culture media and sport, said of local papers: “They don’t want to do stories about the council because they don’t want to lose council advertising.”
This is not a good corner for local papers to find themselves in. A viable independent press is a crucial part of democracy – as Arthur Cooke argued on the letters page of the Hackney Gazette last month (7 May), a local paper is an important forum for the borough’s diverse multitude of voices.
Update, Sun 2 August: Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw says, “Council propaganda sheets remind me of Pravda“.