Senior Labour MP defends local newspapers in wake of damage done by the News of the World hacking scandal

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FORMER Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has defended the Echo and other local papers in the wake of the News of the World scandal.

The phone-hacking saga and allegations that the Sunday newspaper bribed police and officials have caused sustained public outcry over the passed two weeks.

But Mr Burnham, who was visiting Sunderland in his new role as Shadow Education Secretary, warned against tarring all newspapers with the same brush and stressed there was still a need for quality journalism in a democratic society.

The Labour MP singled out local newspapers in particular. He has previously called for more support for regional media while serving as Culture Secretary under Gordon Brown.

“I think we need to do everything we can to support local newspapers. I think they are vitally important,” he said.

“As I said many times when I was Culture Secretary, they play a big role in their communities.

“They are independent and I think people find – as I certainly do – that they get much fairer treatment from the local press around the country than the national media, which tends to put a spin on things.”

Mr Burnham said Government and Parliament needed to look at ways of supporting local newspapers, which have been hit hard by the economic downturn and are struggling in the transition to online journalism.

“We need to play a role in helping them survive,” he said. “That could be the BBC providing content for newspaper websites, that might be helpful to them, and making sure local authorities continue to advertise with them.”

But the MP said lessons must be learned and action taken in the national press after the scandal at the News of the World.

Allegations include claims that the paper used a private investigator to hack the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, deleting some messages which suggested she could still be alive.

“There has been a feeling for a while now that the press are out of control – yourselves excluded of course,” Mr Burnham told the Echo.

“There is a strong feeling about the invasion of people’s private lives. You could say politicians and celebrities put themselves up for it.

“But when it’s ordinary people, victims of crime, and it’s preventing detectives from finding out whether someone’s daughter is still alive, and giving people false hope – that just makes me feel sick to the stomach.”

He added: “We need a healthier and more proper relationship between politicians than we’ve got at the moment.”

Mr Burham said MPs had been through regulatory reform after the expenses scandal, and now it was time to look at the media.

Twitter: @pressbench