LETTER: Regional press threatened

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From Mr Chris Oakley and others

Sir: The Government's Broadcasting Bill will be published this month. We fear that the Bill is to be based on an out-moded view of the regional newspaper industry. It will block the industry's natural development into regionally based media companies by preventing regional and local newspapers from owning radio and television stations within their circulation areas.

Few, if any, regions are now served by only one newspaper and one broadcaster. The allegation that local newspapers are regional monopolists is simply not supported by the evidence. We are in increasing competition for readers and advertisers with national newspapers, magazines and other print media, with the BBC and commercial broadcasters, with cable, with direct mail and the new electronic media.

The Bill is likely to allow our competitors, including national newspapers, whose sales might outnumber our own in a particular licence area, to buy a local radio or television station, which we would be prevented from owning. This would undermine regional newspapers, which would be barred from competition, ultimately resulting in the loss of the comprehensive regional editorial and commercial services that they have traditionally provided for their local communities. The regional plurality that the Government is concerned to preserve will ultimately be lost.

We hope that the Government will revise its proposals in order to maintain a level playing-field to enable our companies to compete fairly, within local markets, with all other media, including national newspapers. The Government's Broadcasting Bill must not bar unfairly the regional newspaper company from being part of the new information age.

Yours faithfully,

Chris Oakley (Group Chief Executive, Midland Independent Newspapers plc); Freddy Johnston (Chairman Johnston Press plc, Edinburgh); Robin Burgess (Managing Director, CN Group, Carlisle); Philip Graf (Chief Executive, Trinity International Holdings plc, Chester); Ray Tindle (Chairman, Tindle Newspapers Ltd, Farnham)

The Newspaper Society

London, WC1

2 November