All across a great swathe of Carmarthenshire comes the sound of junk mail thudding on doormats as the latest edition of the council's propaganda sheet Carmarthenshire News arrives with the post. This time the eco-friendly plastic wrapping also contains a glossy publication heralding the relaunch of the Carmarthen Journal. Cneifiwr's copy arrived yesterday.
It is hard to think of a parallel for this collaboration. Imagine the Inland Revenue distributing free copies of the Sun or Daily Mail perhaps.
The relationship between press and government is always difficult and always in flux. In a healthy democracy the press keeps government at arm's length; it is always suspicious and always questioning. If we did not know already, Leveson helped to blow the lid on what can happen when press barons, journalists, the police and government become too pally, so the decision by the Carmarthen Journal to pay to have its glossy advertising distributed by the council tells us a great deal about the relationship between the council, the Journal and the Llanelli Star.
It does not look good, and it does not smell good.
The latest edition of the council rag is the usual stodgy fare. Two articles promoting the new theatre in Llanelli, with one giving the impression that Meryl Gravell has taken to Twitter. She hasn't. There's the usual picture of Kevin Madge and assorted others wearing hard hats and fluorescent jackets giving a thumbs up, and a snap of Pam Palmer peering at us from behind a police speed camera.
Dai Green is roped in once again (this time the press office calls him Dai rather than David). Dai is very excited about the council's new East Gate development and tweeted, "Heard today that Llanelli is getting a Nandos. This is the BIG".
The Carmarthen Journal glossy is altogether more disturbing.
The publication consists for the most part of reproductions or representations of different parts of the newspaper. The front page leads with a re-hash of a council press release on the planned new business park at Cross Hands, and also finds room for news of an exciting council regeneration project at Ammanford. There is a prominent council advert at the bottom of the page.
No mention is made of one of the biggest events in Carmarthen, which was the demonstration by hundreds of people outside County Hall in support of the Welsh language. But then the council got a bit of a bashing there.
You might as well save yourselves 65p and go straight to the council's website to read the press releases.
Inside there are lots more council stories. "Council plans foodbank talks to aid families", "New care home to go ahead", and promos for the council's new theatre in Llanelli.
Quite a lot of the examples of new, improved coverage are simply headlines and pictures, with the text made up of that peculiar fake Latin mumbo jumbo that developers of publishing software programs seem to love.
Under a large picture of some saluting soldiers in dress uniform is a headline "Meeting for Welsh language group". The story explains, "Agnatquunto temos et eossimolest, cusae. Bitatinvel...." That is the only mention of the Welsh language.
Of course a local newspaper should report on council regeneration projects, but the tone and content appears here to have been dictated by County Hall.
Overall the relaunched Journal is oddly reminiscent of a Soviet era newspaper from Eastern Europe reporting on bountiful harvests, over-fulfilment of the latest 5-year plan and beaming workers. The main difference is that the Journal is in colour.
I remember the line from I'm All Right Jack in which our shop steward, Peter Sellers, describes the socialist paradise that was the Soviet Union: "Fields of waving corn and ballet in the evening". Watch out for ballet!
With flaxen haired, buxom maids dressed in peasant clothes driving the newest tractors and bringing joy to every comrade.
Sounds like Capel Iwan, then.
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