‘Local democracy threatened’ as cuts bite and journalists’ jobs go

Local democracy is under threat as public sector austerity cuts continue to bite and local journalists’ jobs drastically decline, a new book reveals.

‘Local Democracy, Journalism and Public Relations: The changing dynamics in local media and public sector communications ‘ exposes the increasing challenge of holding local politicians to account as government cuts hit council communications and local papers close in response to the shift to digital news.

The book, by Sheffield Hallam University public relations lecturers, Carmel O’Toole and Adrian Roxan, sets out a worrying picture of cuts forced on local councils by austerity policies.

Carmel said: “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.

“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.”

Carmel and Adrian, both former journalists, 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.

Adrian added: “These events all raise serious questions about the scrutiny and accountability of local authorities and the important role the media can and does play.”

Tim Minogue, Editor of ‘Rotten Boroughs’ in Private Eye magazine, commented: “This book lays bare the ‘democratic deficit’ that ensues when local newspapers no longer properly hold councils up to scrutiny. The less accountable public servants are the worse their decision-making becomes – and as a society we are the poorer for it.”

Book content was considered as part of the Government’s recent ‘Cairncross Review’ into the impact on local democracy of the loss of high-quality journalism.

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