Hollywood’s Sheen calls for more local journalism in the UK

Michael Sheen, Jonathan McColl and Democrat editor/publisher Bill Heaney.

By Bill Heaney

Actor Michael Sheen has called on politicians to extend financial support for hyper-local news publishers during the current Covid-19 crisis.

And the Hollywood star said he was looking at investing and supporting ways that create revenue streams local journalism.

The actor and supporter of local news was speaking during a debate entitled What Is News You Can Use organised by Bureau Local.

Meanwhile, West Dunbartonshire Council’s SNP administration continues with its quest to destroy The Dumbarton Democrat by banning and boycotting the digital platform, which was founded nearly two years ago.

This happened after the anti-democratic SNP leader Cllr Jonathan McColl joined council officials who demanded that our editor leave a council meeting after asking Provost William Hendrie if the volume could be turned up on the speaker system within the council chamber in order that the press and public could hear clearly what was going on.

Brendan O’Hara MP, Council CEO Joyce White and Martin Docherty-Hughes MP.

The SNP councillors and local MPs, Martin Docherty Hughes (West Dunbartonshire SNP) and Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) plus local councillors and party officials have banned and boycotted The Democrat ever since.

Offers of talks from The Democrat in order to resolve the matter amicably have been turned down by Cllr McColl and Joyce White, the Council’s chief executive

The debate included BBC gender and identity correspondent Meghan Mohan and Reach plc data journalist Annie Gouk and was the climax of a two-week initiative by the Bureau Local as part of its Change the Story project.

The project’s stated aim has been to ‘re-imagine local news in the UK so that it can be more relevant and constructive for under-represented communities.’

Last week saw conversations online under the banner of News You Can Use.

Rachel Hamada, Community Organiser for the Bureau explained the thinking behind the project.“If local news is to survive and build public trust, it needs to be collaborative rather than competitive, relevant to the daily lives and concerns of a wider range of people, and useful – in giving people, community groups and the rest of civic society the tools or evidence to hold local decision makers to account.”

Sheen said that in 1970 his hometown of Port Talbot in Wales had five local newspapers but he said today there are none based either in the county of Neath Port Talbot or Pembrokeshire.

Similarly in West Dunbartonshire none of the two local papers, the Lennox Herald and the Dumbarton Reporter, is based in Dumbarton.

“In Port Talbot we have no local reporting, so if knowledge is power we’re incredibly powerless here and you can see the ripple effect of that in all kinds of ways,” the actor added.

The Democrat is FREE to readers, and all community-based advertising for public and social events is also free of charge.

Bill Heaney, who has won the Weekly Journalist of the Year award in Scotland three times, said: “We are fully committed to covering events relevant to the daily lives and concerns of the people who live in in our area to equip them with information to hold local councillors and officials to account. It was this they didn’t like when they banned The Democrat. 

“The council prefers to communicate through spin doctors at a cost to council taxpayers of around £500,000 a year.

“We don’t need a lot of money to survive. What we do need is enough to to pay a journalist to provide cover for the editor on high days and holidays. Technology is a wonderful thing.

“We would be grateful if some philanthropic person would take up the example of Michael Sheen.

Michael Sheen, who once played a journalist in the film Frost/Nixon, said he is “looking at investing and support things that create revenue streams for all local journalists”.

 “Anyone in Pembrokeshire or the Neath Port Talbot area if you want to dive into this and try to start something up, I will help you,” he added and called on the Government both nationally and in Wales to provide financial support to hyper-local titles.


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