‘Editors all have a duty to wield their power and keep the pressure on’

Both candidates to be the next Prime Minister have pledged to back the regional press. But, writes Newsquest’s Norwich Evening News editor Richard Porritt, the industry can’t rest easy…

Most newspapers have a campaign running at any given moment.

It could be to repair a falling down hospital, raise money for an honourable cause or improve transport links.

Norwich Evening News editor Richard Porritt

Throughout the life of our industry reporters and editors have taken up other people’s causes — and usually we win.

The press is expert at getting stuff done. A year ago the Evening News launched the We’ll Sort It! campaign and its success is firmly rooted in its simplicity.

Readers with often quite low-level issues get in touch and we put pressure on the authorities — usually councils — to get it fixed.

Some examples of our successes include getting housebound people their Covid jabs after doctors said it would be too time consuming to visit them, the repainting of yellow lines on a busy street after parking chaos ensued and fixing the pavement outside a disabled woman’s home so she could once again leave her front door. And there are scores more.

None of these things will change the world — but they have made a huge difference to the readers involved.

But as good as we are at lobbying on behalf of others sometimes we are not as successful when it comes to issues that will deeply impact us.

Yes the News Media Association and others do a fine job. But editors, who are right at the coalface, need to utilise the power they wield.

One of Westminster’s biggest failings is how long it can take our laws to react to real-world events.

For years now the tech giants have dominated the media landscape. And now the playing field needs levelling.

The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill is a start. The hope is it will stop these international behemoths exploitation of rivals and consumers.

Perhaps even more vitally it promises to ensure the likes of Facebook and Google have to pay a fair price for all that excellent content we produce upon which they have built their empires.

Downing Street hopeful Rishi Sunak was quick to pledge his ongoing support for the Bill. His rival Liz Truss was slightly more tardy. However after some back-channel pressure from Newsquest’s Eastern Counties titles — she is one of our MPs — she has now also acknowledged how important this legislation is.

Both also back a repeal of Section 40 of the Criminal and Courts Act which poses a clear danger to the freedom of the press.

The Act would see publishers having to pay both side’s legal costs in defamation and privacy cases — no matter what the outcome — unless they join the state-sponsored regulator. Mr Sunak has vowed to get it off the statute book “as a matter of urgency”.

But our fight is not over. Once we know who the next Prime Minister will be we all have a duty to keep the pressure on. We must not rest until these two vital pledges are delivered.

We owe it not only to the industry and the generations of journalists to come, but also to our readers who deserve a free and fair press.

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