“Toxic combination” of austerity and newspaper closures threatens local democracy

Stephen Chapman's picture

A "toxic combination" of public sector austerity cuts and fewer local journalists means local democracy is threatened - according to a new book.

Local Democracy, Journalism and Public Relations: The changing dynamics in local media and public sector communications has been written by Sheffield Hallam University PR lecturers Carmel O’Toole and Adrian Roxan.

It examines the increasing challenge of holding local politicians to account. That’s because public sector cuts are hitting council communications offices at the same time as local papers close and shift to digital.

"The result is less information and consultation with local residents. At the same time the UK has seen the decline and disappearance of many local newspapers and journalists, who have traditionally scrutinised public sector spenders. This toxic combination threatens the ability of the media and public to hold local politicians to account,” said O’Toole.

“The ‘nose for news’ has been downgraded and local journalists, once the champions of public interest coverage, are a force much diminished, working harder than ever before, with fewer people and chasing online hits, damaging local democracy as a result, with no one holding those in power to account."

The authors are both former journalists and for the book they present extensive interviews with senior communicators within UK council authorities; award winning local and national journalists, editors and media group executives.

The book, released by Routledge on 21 May, also includes in-depth case studies on the Grenfell Tower disaster, the Rotherham child-grooming scandal and the Sheffield tree felling controversy.

"These events all raise serious questions about the scrutiny and accountability of local authorities and the important role the media can and does play,” added Roxan.

Content from the book was considered as part of the Government’s recent Cairncross Review into the impact on local democracy of the loss of high-quality journalism.