Thursday 13 December 2012

The Empire Strikes Back: The South Wales Guardian

Normal blogging service will be resumed as soon as possible, but events involving the blacklisting of the South Wales Guardian have taken another turn with the publication by the council of an extraordinarily bad-tempered and disingenuous press release (here).

Underneath all of the bluster, this press release says two things:

1. The withdrawal of advertising from the Guardian was a purely commercial decision and had nothing to do with the paper's reporting.

2. The council does not like the way the paper reports council news.

The fact that advertising all but ceased when the paper was critical of the council over the Sainsbury's press release at the beginning of September was therefore entirely coincidental, we are asked to believe. And it had nothing whatsoever to do with discussions which were going on in County Hall in July when the manager of the press office was asking the council's marketing department to stop advertising with the Guardian until "issues are resolved" between the council and the newspaper.

That exchange between the press office and the marketing department (both part of the chief executive's fiefdom) was leaked to the press, and assistant chief executive Chris Burns was tasked with explaining matters. He said:

We spend quite a lot with the Guardian and there's no intention to stop this advertising. As I understand it the trader's concerns were that the story appeared to suggest that the town was likely to be 'closed for Christmas'. The article concerned was not, I must say, particularly critical of the county council and I cannot see any reason why this would have led to us removing advertising completely.

Only six weeks separated Mr Burns' declaration and the "commercial" decision. At the very least, Mr Burns may feel that his colleagues have undermined his credibility.

As usual, the council rather gives the game away by devoting so much of the press release to saying how much it dislikes being criticised by the newspaper. 

Let's imagine for a moment that this was taking place in London, rather than Carmarthenshire, and that 10 Downing Street and the Civil Service had decided that from now on, no government advertising would be placed with the Daily Mirror, Guardian or Independent. Only the Daily Mail and the Sun would be allowed to advertise civil service jobs, etc. It could truthfully say that the Mail enjoyed a much larger readership than the Guardian.

Of course this would never happen, partly perhaps for fear of the reaction by press and public, but also because the government in Westminster, whatever else you may think about it, accepts that newspapers have a right to criticise and scrutinise government decisions, no matter how much it dislikes what they say.

Cneifiwr has no special insight into the finances of the South Wales Guardian, but the loss of council advertising revenue, which now seems to be permanent, could well push the paper under. It is a newspaper with a unique voice which serves its community well, and the Ammanford area would be the poorer without it.

Opposition politicians, bloggers and others can shout and scream until the cows come home, but Kevin Madge, the council leader who is so proud of his Ammanford roots, is the one person who could stop this vindictive campaign in its tracks and call the council's out-of-control officers back in line. He may even realise that the negative publicity on his own doorstep is not doing him any favours.

Over to you, Kev.


caebrwyn said...

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the statement on the council website. What is wrong with them?
We'll see if Kevin Madge has the bottle to sort this out, and as you say, rein in the out of control officers, somehow I doubt it. The South Wales Guardian has been very supportive of Cllr Madge over the years, his loyalties are better nurtured in Ammanford than with the fickle regime in County Hall.
Of course there's also the distinct and very real possibility that he never wrote the original and infamous Sainsbury's press release on the council website.
The use of the plural 'we' in today's press office nonsense doesn't ring quite right either.

Anonymous said...

It is clear that the latest information from the Guardian has hit a nerve in County Hall.
Why would County Hall react like this otherwise?

Jac o' the North, said...

What the Guardian writes wouldn't really bother county hall if it got no further. The problem for the council is that the story has been taken up and relayed well beyond Carmarthensire. Also, this is the latest in a lengthening line of damaging stories that make the council look - as the Guardian editor put it - like some East European regime from the 1960s. That analogy would have struck home, and he's not the only one saying it.

Anonymous said...

Another badly written PR withe the usual grammatical errors. Quote from the PR : When placing advertising we need to find the best value for money. We cannot simply spend taxpayers’ money with local newspapers to subsidise them and support their running costs. That would be a misuse of our funds.
So why is the council subbing the Scarlets and various other bodies in the county and wasting tax payers money? can our dear Debbie answer that ?

Anonymous said...

Without running the council down what can the Guardian print.

Well it can run many a story on why the W.D.A never bothered with the area ( it never bothered with those stories back then does not touch them now).
It could change its name to "Backwater" and harp on about the diabolical state of the local economy it does not touch those stories either.
The fact is the paper does not go anywhere near what really matters to people.

Dyfrig Thomas said...

Having a strong urge to write a pantomime on the goings on at County Hall, not that I have any skills in that way. Perhaps some of you could help with the casting.

The Panto to be performed early in the new year in The Furnace, Carmarthenshire's new theatr, assuming there is no censorship by the Carmarthenshire Empire.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to note that the council were "astonished" to read "so many inaccurate statements" on the Guardian front page, but are then unable to pinpoint any. Surely if there are, as they claim, "so many" they would have identified and addressed them on a point by point basis. Instead, they claim numerous inaccuracies, but fail to mention any in particular.

Anonymous said...

So according to your blog on an independent Llanelli, CCC's favourite put down for its critics is to label them: "a small, unrepresentative group which has a problem with local government". I see that the real reason CCC has pulled its ads from the SWG is not because of the Sainsburys editorial but because it is a small, unrepresentative paper that has been known to have a problem with County Hall...Is it me or is there an echo in here?

Anonymous said...

I expect to wake up soon and realise I was only dreaming. The Council PR say that they cannot give newspapers taxpayers money to subsidise them as this would be a misuse of funds. What about funding libel costs? I for one have not been asked whether I want my hard earned money to be used in this way? It seems the rules are made up to suit them as they go along.

Anonymous said...

It demonstrates that speaking the truth is a crime freedom of speech is on trial.
Jackboots patrol the corridors on "Jail Hill."