The real power of the press – 
our readers

Protesters outside for the announcement of Lord Justice Leveson's Report
Protesters outside for the announcement of Lord Justice Leveson's Report
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If you want to know about the power of the Press talk to Clarice Richardson, 85, of Norbreck.

She says she has little to do with the thousands of pages presented by Lord Justice Leveson’s long awaited report into the embattled industry beset by the hacking scandal.

Or for that matter the tougher form of self-regulation announced backed by legislation.

Rather than pore over the report, she enjoyed the sunny day- knowing it was one she may not have lived to see had she not had a lifesaving heart procedure.

Clarice was one of several 
local elderly patients turned down on funding grounds for TAVI, transcatheter aortic value implementation, in spite of local medics challenging the policy.

The surgery has since 
repaired what she calls her “dripping” heart.

“I’d struggled on for 13 years with a dripping heart until we learned of TAVI. When they turned me down we tried to interest politicians but hit a brick wall until The Gazette took it on for us.”

The former newsagent still keeps the faith with her local paper. She has a newsagent’s eyes for sales and sees red when people pause to read the front page and move on. “There were no returns at my shops,” she declares. “Local papers serve their local communities. Sometimes they’re the only ones you can turn to.”

She’s had her op and a year on feels as fighting fit as other health issues permit. “It made a huge difference to my health and to others. We owe The Gazette a lot.”

That’s the power of the Press. The phrase has been turned into an insult by the 16 month Leveson inquiry. For those on the receiving end of intrusive media phone hacking, hounding, it’s a red (top tabloid) flag to a bull. It’s caused misery for some with enough heartbreak on their plate to last a lifetime.

But by no means it is the whole story. Local journalists see the bigger picture. They know they give a voice to those who might not otherwise have one.

The Gazette provides a platform to people who desperately need to reach the policy makers and shapers.

It can mean challenging authority. That is the crux of issue. Britain has enjoyed a free press for centuries, corruption exposed, state-run 
inadequacies investigated and reported to the masses.

And there lies the fear over state regulation. It is a thin end of the wedge, and a wedge hard to pull out once inserted.

Journalism has always been about asking awkward questions, getting under the skin of officialdom’s comfort zone, pricking political pomposity and exposing double standards.

Take the £30k of NHS funds spent on a lavish staff party at a plush Blackpool hotel in 2008 – just as recession bit deep into public spending budgets.

We revealed this without hacking into mobile phones, hounding bereaved families or going on a fool’s pursuit of a celebrity with a super injunction because he doesn’t want the extent of his hypocrisy known. We don’t care about who’s sleeping with who. We present real issues for real people.

We’ve campaigned against knife crime, drugs, social blight, juvenile nuisance. We’ve not just banged the drum for the homeless this year but gone out and experienced a taste of it – one reporter spending two nights on the streets.

“We’ve featured disabled people with incurable conditions denied mobility vehicles within two weeks of seeing benefits cut or changed. We’ve secured apprenticeships for young people who have missed out on work through the miniscule targets imposed by Government-backed employment “support” schemes.

The power of the Press rests in our ability to make a difference. It starts with one call. Such as when bereaved parents John and Penny Clough turned to The Gazette for support for their campaign to reform a bail system which had released a high risk offender to kill their daughter, Blackpool A&E nurse Jane.

Justice for Jane saw the hard won amendment to bail laws safeguarding other women – and in tough new stalking laws this week. The fight goes on.

Jane’s dad John admits: “We’ve been let down by some national media but not The Gazette. We can’t thank you enough.”

Not all battles are won. Supercasino, world heritage site status, lost causes for the time being. But a cardiac centre the envy of Lancashire is here because local surgeons and The Gazette joined forces in protest at plans to close the original heart unit. It could have been lost. The same goes for North Pier Theatre and the Grand. Campaigns with heart.

For journalists still fired by the passion which propelled them into the profession the “power” of the Press rests in a bond of trust. The real power is in our readers – urging us to make a difference, supporting us when we do.

Local journalists play their part, ethically and with dedication.

And not a tape listening device or hacked phone in sight.

l Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn:

“Both local and national media vary hugely in quality.

“We are relatively fortunate on the Fylde coast to have Radio Lancashire, Radio Wave and The Gazette – all of who are broadly balanced, and pay what I would consider to be sufficient weight to civic society and current 
affairs – including politics.

“On the issue of regulation, the Press Complaints Commission is one of the most hopeless organisations on the face of the planet.

“A member of my extended family was brutally murdered 10 years ago, and the manner in which the national and international media dealt with the story was not only disgustingly sensationalist and voyeuristic, but at times risked creating a situation where the perpetrator might have got away with the crime, on the basis that press coverage would have meant he couldn’t get a fair trial. Happily this didn’t happen, and he got life imprisonment.

“An uncle committed suicide when I was a teenager, and the media turned up on the doorstep of my elderly grandmother the following day wanting a comment.

“On both occasions the PCC were worse than useless.

“What is needed is a truly independent body which can examine complaints against the press in a 
robust and meaningful manner.

“The best form of regulation however is the power that we all hold - the power not to buy, read, watch or listen to nonsense.”

* Paul Maynard, Blackpool North and Cleveleys Conservative MP:

“I strongly believe in a free press, able to scrutinise those in public life and hold them to account.

“Equally, we need some robust regulation in place to protect those who are not necessarily in public life but who are mistreated by the press, or indeed famous figures who are unfairly treated, to ensure that when the press does get it wrong, as we know they have done, they are held to account with vim and vigour.

“But we should never return to the days when newspapers had to be censored and licensed. Local newspapers as well as national papers are vital to the ongoing process of democratic accountability, and we really need to ensure that they are not shackled by fear of censorship”.

* Gordon Marsden, Blackpool South Labour MP:

“In all the understandable controversy and concern about the way ordinary people are sometimes treated by the national media it is very important to remember the other side of the coin – local media and local newspapers at their best can be very positive ways of helping individuals and bringing communities together.

“We share a world which moves very fast and in which people may often seem disconnected from each other and papers supply many of those bonds of connection and friendship. The Gazette has produced very impressive surveys on issues such as poverty and homelessness, moving accounts of various people who fought in the forces in the run-up to Remembrance Day, strong coverage for the Justice for Jane campaign, and these are all examples where the media locally can be a force for good.

“In the controversy and self interest that may rage on the back of Leveson’s recommendations we must not lose sight of this – the balance between privacy and the freedom of the press has become more acute because we live in a world where theoretically many things can be known.

“But remember that what interests the public is not necessarily in the public interest.”

* Karen Winkley, community development officer for the Ashley Foundation (homelessness charity):

“I couldn’t do my job without our local Press having a sensible and realistic handle on what we do.

“It’s very difficult to remain objective about anything, subjectivity is after all, subjective! We all bring our own view and slant but it takes skill to report on something where the facts speak for themselves. Local papers are just that, local people reporting on local issues and given the Localism Bill, how can we survive without a local paper?

“But journos need to have some autocracy and the ability to expedite their duties in safe and certain knowledge, along with the trust of the Editor.

“Local news after all, should determine national policy isn’t that what this Government is evangelising?”

* Lynn Saggerson, chief executive of the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Volunteers Centre:

“The Gazette’s ongoing support and commitment to Blackpool’s community, in particular its many articles and features about our thriving local voluntary and community sector, is of huge importance to us.

“It’s also quite refreshing to have ‘good news’ stories published locally, particularly when it helps to highlight the more positive aspects of our local community and the essential work our 
voluntary and community sector does.”

* Stephen Brookes, Blackpool-based co-ordinator of Disability Hate Crime Network, concludes:

“I am more than dismayed that in the lengthy (Leveson) report there is little or no recognition of the continuing impact of media on the lives of disabled people.

“That impact is divided into two key areas, one, the national media which generally demeans and attacks disabled people, with consequences of lowered public perception and, two, the local media which supports and emphasises difference and local 
involvement in a generally positive way.

“If politicians are to build bridges, they must be part of the solution and stop promoting national media hostility toward disabled people.”