Lord Inglewood discusses the reasons he became a PINF trustee and the moment he became a vocal champion of a free press.
I don’t think it likely that many people would have expected me to be an enthusiastic advocate for local journalism, and not least because it was not until I was in my forties that I had any real involvement with the media. Up until that point, I had been engaged in a number of endeavours, including serving two terms as an MEP around the end of the last century.
It was in the immediate period after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, when the extent of the repression imposed by regimes in the ex-Soviet Empire became clear, that I actually began to appreciate just how important truth and facts are to the workings of a free society.
Not least is the overriding importance of a press that is free from government interference to the electorate, before it votes, and to wider political debate. A press which must not be based on prejudice and distortion. If freedom and informed debate are important, a free press and investigative journalism are crucial because they are at the heart of it all.
I first exercised my newfound interest in the media during a spell as a junior minister in John Major's Government when I found some aspects of the media part of my responsibilities. Subsequently I chaired the Communications Committee of the House of Lords and chaired CN Group (Cumbria Newspapers — now part of Newsquest) for more than ten years.
The story of the changes to local newspapers brought about by digital technology needs no retelling from me. Suffice it to say the decline in the amount of local news is well recognised, and with it a decline in the character of the information available in the communities they serve. This is the background to our contemporary local democracy.
Perhaps hardly surprisingly, elected politicians, of which I have been one, have a complicated relationship with the Media, but behind it there is an understanding of its centrality to our constitutional arrangements, and the way in which our political society works.
The Fourth Estate, in all its forms, is at the heart of this. Without a healthy local media, our political arrangements do not work properly or play the role they should.
Now, as the world changes, so must the media and the means through which it distributes its content. As I write this, there are real questions about how all of this is working, and amongst others PINF is playing its part in this revolution. That is why I am pleased to be involved and to give it my support.
Richard Fletcher-Vane, 2nd Baron Inglewood is a non-affiliated Member of the House of Lords and a member of PINF's board of trustees.