As Caebrwyn reported previously, a shabby little meeting took place somewhere in Carmarthenshire this week to "discuss" a motion in support of press freedom. The motion was supposed to have gone to the next meeting of the full council, but was instead effectively vetoed by the Chief Executive and sent to one of the two Deputy Leaders of the council, Pam Palmer, for "consideration" in private.
Mrs Palmer, who is a staunch opponent of allowing the public to record council meetings, sat down either in Llanelli (according to the agenda) or in Carmarthen (according to the meeting minutes) along with Debbie Williams (manager of the council's notorious press office and PR machine), Chris Burns (one of our two deputy chief executives) and Colin Davies who revels in the title of Head of Democratic Services. In 25 minutes they concluded that everything in the garden was lovely, and that the freedom of the press was safe in the hands of Carmarthenshire County Council.
Judging from the minutes, much of the short meeting must have been taken up by Ms Williams telling her colleagues what a wonderful job the press office does. It issues lots of press releases, and is the first port of call for any journalist with questions about council business. Who would have thought that?
Ms Williams forgot to mention that what sparked the row about press freedom was an e-mail she had sent demanding that the council should cease placing adverts with the South Wales Guardian because it had criticised the council. She might even have recalled some of the other escapades she has been involved in, including the Sainsbury's press release, reporting Cllr Siân Caiach to the chief executive for comments allegedly made to a BBC reporter, numerous other politically slanted press releases and an e-mail attack on Plaid Cymru AM Helen Mary Jones in 2006.
But clearly there was not time for any of that.
She might also have liked to ponder that a good proportion of the 1,500 press releases and news stories churned out by her department in the course of a year can only be described as crap. Just as a taster, here's something what they wrote about the hurdler Dai Green (known for some reason to the press office as David Green) last year:
David Green, who is the current hat-trick holder of the
Carmarthenshire Sports Personality of the Year, will take come stopping
clocking another victory in this respect having finished-outside the
medals but a creditable fourth-in the worlds’s man-killer Olympic
400-meters hurdles event.
Unsurprisingly then, the gang that mugged the South Wales Guardian reconvened as a court and decided that the charges did not add up to a row of beans before declaring themselves innocent.
On Friday it snowed, and most of the county's schools closed for the day. In Ceredigion the council's much smaller press office put out a stream of informative messages in Welsh and English on Twitter with details of school closures and the situation on the roads. The best the bloated operation in Carmarthenshire could come up with was a couple of tweets (one in ungrammatical Welsh by the way) suggesting that anyone interested should refer to the council's website.
Deputy Chief Executive Chris Burns featured in the Helen
Mary Jones row in which Ms Williams was let off scot-free, and he
appears to be the man the council calls on whenever there is a bit of
fixing to do.
He popped up again later in the week at the rally outside County Hall organised by Cymdeithas yr Iaith. Not in person, you understand, but in an e-mail to the organisers asking them to move the rally from County Hall to somewhere else because of "health and safety" issues.
Fortunately the organisers at Cymdeithas yr Iaith are made of much sterner stuff, and rejected his offer.
As readers of the Carmarthenshire blogs will know, Mr Burns was also heavily involved with the Big Brother entry procedures imposed on visitors to the public gallery in County Hall, and health and safety issues, security concerns and fire regulations were all wheeled out to justify the unjustifiable.
The event, which was superbly organised, passed off extremely well and was attended by a large crowd of young and old. A very high proportion of the speakers, who included actors, poets, teachers, politicians, a minister of religion, a farmer and a senior member of Merched y Wawr, attacked the council's appalling record on the language.
Unfortunately none of the council's 10 Executive Board members felt it necessary to attend, and neither did any of the Labour or Independent councillors. In the case of the Independents the fact that they could not claim expenses probably put a good many off.
The council's response to the recent Census results showed that as far as the 44% of the population who described themselves as Welsh speakers were concerned, they simply don't count.