The TUC Congress has backed a motion calling for a government-commissioned inquiry into the future of local newspapers.

Called for by the National Union of Journalists, it’s also seeking a campaign to defend “the principle of public broadcasting and the BBC’s licence fee.”

“On a daily basis we’re called upon to support our members dealing with the redundancies, the reorganisations, the stress, the frustration as they watch papers they care passionately about being slowly destroyed by owners protecting absurd profit margins and managing decline rather than investing in quality journalism and planning for the future,” stated Andy Smith, NUJ joint-president.

“Despite the bad news, I do believe local newspapers have a future. But it’s not a future where recycled press releases and readers’ photos are thrown together under a regional masthead, one line on a balance sheet of some multi-national giant, vulnerable to decisions made by people who know precious little about the titles they own and nothing at all about where you live.”

The motion was seconded by Unite delegate Nigel Gawthrope, who said that the loss of jobs for printers and journalists was “a disservice to the readers and local democracy.”

On the BBC licence fee, BBC producer and NUJ delegate, David Campanale added:

“The licence fee brings freedom from the pressures of advertising and the commercial imperative. But it also has that virtue which no company paymaster can ever buy with a cheque: the public’s trust. For the BBC treats its viewers and listeners as citizens rather than consumers.

“The BBC through its values and World Services has built up the trust of the world. So the BBC’s ambition of doubling its global audience to 500m is achievable because it is seen to be in no one’s pocket.  For these reasons it’s no surprise then it’s the BBC licence fee that’s in the cross-hairs of its opponents. And why the union movement must fight to defend it.”

According to the NUJ’s own figures, more than 140 newspapers have closed since March 2011, with local paid-for daily newspapers losing subscribers at 14% a year. Weeklies at 8%. A quarter of local government areas are not covered by a daily local paper and 35% of those which are covered are done so by only 1 daily, with three quarters of these controlled by either Newsquest, Trinity Mirror or Local World.