© Russell Higgs

© Russell Higgs

THERE has been much talk recently of the importance and legitimacy of democratic debate, and of hearing other voices, opinions and points of view – even when we don’t agree with all or even any of them. The Hackney Citizen hopes to continue to play a role in facilitating such debate, alongside other local papers and magazines in the borough.

Commenting recently on the role of local papers, Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian said: “Communities need information; local politicians and officials need challenge; citizens need a voice.”

Guardian writer Roy Greenslade similarly observed: “We take for granted that they [local papers] are essential democratic tools. Similarly, we assume that they help to foster community spirit, acting as agents for social cohesion. I admit that I share those assumptions. No paper, no information. No paper, no accountability.”

The Government’s (previous) culture, media and sport secretary Andy Burnham recently called a summit to look at the problems facing the local press, which is suffering from loss of advertising revenue. Mr Burnham told his audience: “Strong local media are vital to a healthy democracy, and provide a crucial and trusted service to their communities.”

Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, appearing before the parliamentary select committee for culture media and sport, said of local papers: “They don’t want to do stories about the council because they don’t want to lose council advertising.”

This is not a good corner for local papers to find themselves in. A viable independent press is a crucial part of democracy – as Arthur Cooke argued on the letters page of the Hackney Gazette last month (7 May), a local paper is an important forum for the borough’s diverse multitude of voices.

Update, Sun 2 August: Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw says, “Council propaganda sheets remind me of Pravda“.