Monday 10 September 2012

News management

Following on from the open letter to the Editor of the Carmarthen Journal the two blogs have received several comments from Anonymous arguing:

(i) If you don't like the newspaper, don't buy it.

(ii)  "That [i.e. not publishing stories critical of the Council, ed.] is the commercial right of the newspaper. The right to transact their business as they see fit, just as the right to buy (or not to buy) the paper is your right. If County Hall are bullying the paper ("press management" it is called) then that is a matter that needs to be taken up with the County Council through the elected members".

Whoever Anon is, the views they express are what you would expect to hear from County Hall.

Neither Caebrwyn nor this blog is calling for a boycott of the newspaper. The Journal has enough problems without that, and the loss of the paper would be immensely damaging to civil society in the large area served by it.

The second comment seems to me to be much more cynical. The term "commercial right" suggests that the newspaper has some degree of choice, but we have seen several cases in recent years where the choice local papers have been given is between editorial independence and integrity or ruin. If the loss of council advertising revenue is not enough to close a paper, it would at the very least mean further job losses and reduction of news reporting.

That is the sort of commercial freedom normally associated with the Mafia.

Let's take one example to highlight the problem.

The Delyth Jenkins story about the abuse of vulnerable adults in a council day centre is one of legitimate public interest. Earlier this year BBC Cymru broadcast a documentary about it presented by Garry Owen, who is one of the best liked and most respected journalists in Wales. Garry is about as far from the stereotypical Murdoch hack as you can get.

The programme was not a rehash of old news, but was investigating the aftermath of the affair. It pointed out that most of the people involved in the abuse and the subsequent appalling management of the scandal were still in their jobs. Indeed, several had been promoted. It could have added that a couple of our most senior councillors played a less than glorious role in the saga, and that they are still running the council.

The council not only refused to take part in the programme, but called the police to trail Garry Owen and the rest of the BBC team.

Around the same time, the Western Mail also ran a story looking at another aspect of the case which should give cause for concern.

Not only did the Carmarthen Journal  exercise its "commercial right" not to report any of this, but it ran instead a long piece on a 6 month old report from the Care and Social Services Inspectorate praising the council's social care services.

What the Journal did not tell its readers was that the CSSIW report would never have mentioned the Delyth Jenkins case anyway, for the simple reason that the CSSIW's remit does not extend to day centres.

You could call that "news management", but most people would use rather less flattering words.

The flurry of media activity which I have just described was only the latest in the long history of this case. If you look back over the press reports and also the council's own published accounts of it, the picture that emerges is of a local authority which was more concerned with "news management" than actually dealing with the problem itself.

The council's over-riding aim was to shut the story down as quickly as possible, and it even went so far as to use the victim of the abuse, "Sally", as a PR mascot. Despite the unfortunate events, we were told, Sally could not wait to get back to the day centre, and so all was well. When this was reported by a newspaper to the shock and disgust of Sally's parents, the council simply blamed it on "erroneous" reporting by the press.

Again, you could call that "press management", but other words spring to mind.

People in Carmarthenshire are mature enough to know that in any large organisation things will sometimes go wrong. Instead of "news management" they have the right to expect that their local authority will show honesty and openness about what has happened and what has been done about it. They could, for example, tell us whether extending CSSIW's remit to cover day centres is a good idea or if not, why not.

All of which brings us to the final point about taking the matter up with elected councillors. The council's whole approach to "news management" (its bullying of the press, its use of spin, the smearing of political opponents through the press office and the bi-monthly council propaganda sheet) has repeatedly been condemned over the years by MPs and Assembly Members, as well as opposition councillors.

None of that has had the slightest effect. Members of the public have protested, either through letters columns, blogs or direct to councillors. Water off a duck's back.

We are left with news management in what is elsewhere termed a "managed democracy".


A timely and well observed piece has appeared today on the Swansea-based Inside Out blog (comment below). Here's the link.


Anonymous said...

This totalitarian councils conduct or mis-conduct comes down to two things.
a.undisputed unaccountability. They are shameless because they are allowed to be. Not one Minister with the Assembly Government has the balls to call them to book, and they know it. The buck stops with the Ministers.
b. To prove this point, I have resorted to writing to Westminster because of the lack of support from Welsh Ministers, only to be told by Westminister, they cannot get involved...why? because we have our own Welsh Government. Where does that leave Welsh people then? Quite clearly without support or a voice due to nil support from the so-called Welsh Government Ministers. Sown up I'd say. Not surprising then that senior officers of CCC have no concerns about being questioned on their mis-conduct. Carl Sargeant has recently been informed of a very serious issue, where most certainly he should asking for an inquiry, but feels is is 'inappropriate' and 'not proper'to get involved. Perhaps Carl Sargeant would care to write to Eric Pickles M.P. and explain this to him, so that I for one can have access to a Government Minister who might have the balls to bring certain senior officers to account. Inappropriate conduct by senior officers will prevail all the while our Ministers do nothing. Nough said!

Shambo said...

Different perspective at Inside Out -

Unknown said...

Having been the victim of character assassination on a council website paid for with our money I protested and wrote to the Ombudsman. I wrote to my council, my MP, MEP and AM and the first minister. None could intervene. The perpetrators were granted full protection by CCC's legal department. The only way I could get any satisfaction was via legal action. Needless to say it was David v Goliath in the money stakes. So the public have no right of complaint other than lip service, which may go so far as a useless ombudsman who usually favours the government. We are all stuffed!

Unknown said...

You may be interested in the anonymous blog on

Anonymous said...

As an English person now living in Wales I was truly shocked at the lack of support from the Welsh Government. Not only lack of support but a clear refusal to even meet with anyone who needs to expose the ruthless conduct of ones local authority. In England there is access to ones Government Minister if an issue is serious enough, not so in Wales. It seems there are different ways of doing things here in Wales. I could say 'made up as befits needs'. Closed shop! Extremely worrying and dare I say sinister.