Tuesday 17 July 2012

Called in for a chat - Carmarthenshire and press freedom

A few weeks ago the Western Mail got itself into hot water again for a rather inflammatory comment piece on whether the proceedings of the Welsh Assembly should be available in both languages, and for a short while the hashtag #westernfail started trending on Twitter. For those readers not familiar with Twitter what that means is that, for a few hours, one of our Welsh domestic disputes managed to reach such a fever pitch that it could be heard all around the world.

Quite an achievement by all involved, but like any dispute between neighbours over a garden hedge, it was not a pretty sight. An ill-judged piece which led to a row in which the paper refused to back down, and some of those in the other camp were hoping to dance on the paper's grave.

The fragility of our local press is no state secret, and the latest attempt by Carmarthenshire County Council to muzzle one of the newspapers on its patch  - the South Wales Guardian this time -shows that County Hall's bullies have no reservation in exploiting that weakness in their obsessive quest for favourable press coverage. We learned today that the council's top brass took umbrage at a report in the newspaper, and its editor has now been invited over for a chat. For details see Caebrwyn's report here.

If it had not been for the Western Mail, it is unlikely that the story would have been told. And you would certainly not have read about it in the Carmarthen Journal which nowadays makes sure never to run any story which might upset Council bigwigs. Actually, the Journal has sunk even lower than that, as our next example shows.

Also back in the pages of the Western Mail is the story of Delyth Jenkins, the courageous woman who stood up to the bullies in the Council's day care centre in Johnstown. Delyth then ran into the pin-striped bullies of County Hall. At one point the Council even blamed the press for reporting crass and insensitive remarks made by its Chief Executive in a public meeting.

Earlier this year the Delyth Jenkins story was back in the news, with the BBC covering it in an edition of Taro 9. The council not only refused to take part in the programme, but had the police watch the movements of the BBC production team. Not a word of this was breathed in the Journal, which instead ran a long précis of a 6-month old report by the CSSIW (Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales) praising the council's approach to social services.

Delyth is now calling for the CSSIW to be given powers to inspect day centres, although sad to say, recent reports from CSSIW, the Wales Audit Office and Estyn show that when it comes to standing up to our county council, these agencies don't have a single testicle between them.

Estyn recently produced a damning report on Ysgol Gyfun Emlyn, one of the county's secondary schools. On the same day it published another report which gave the county's education department an overall rating of "good".

Good is probably not the word which is in the minds of most of the parents, children, staff and governors of the school, but needless to say the Journal ran a re-hash of the Council's press release praising its education service and forgot to mention the plight of one of the largest schools in its area.

The Western Mail, whose chief reporter Martin Shipton was once decribed by Carmarthenshire's Chief Executive as being someone "not known for being friendly to or giving the benefit of the doubt to Councils", is a bit of a problem for the Kremlin on the Towy because the paper is not reliant on its advertising, and so cannot be easily threatened.

One way of sorting out the likes of the Western Mail would be to sue them for libel, but annoyingly for Carmarthenshire, councils are not allowed to bring actions for defamation.

The solution to that problem is to sue by proxy, claiming that one of the officers, for example, has been libelled and that these "extraordinary circumstances" are somehow preventing the council from discharging its functions, so that public money may be used to fund the case.

If that doesn't rid the Council of that turbulent Mr Shipton, what will?

1 comment:

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

The case of the Estyn report on Ysgol Gyfun Emlyn highlights just how lacking in journalistic integrity the Journal is.

The Tivy-Side Advertiser ran a quarter page story on the HMI's report. The Cambrian News splashed it onto the front page: "School in crisis after flunked inspection", and gave the story the whole of page 5.

Look in vain for this news in the Journal, though: dim byd, zilch, nada, nothing anywhere in the whole blarry 108 pages.