Wednesday 25 February 2015

A Herald of Spring

The February-March edition of Carmarthenshire News, the council's propaganda sheet, arrived yesterday wrapped in its customary eco-friendly plastic.

The most important piece of council business to be transacted in the period covered by the "newspaper" will be the approval of the budget for 2015-16, with deep cuts to a whole range of services and another inflation-busting rise in council tax (see Caebrwyn for an account of the budget meeting).

The cuts will affect everyone of us, but incredibly for a publication which is supposed to keep us informed about the council and its services, there is not a word about the budget or the spending cuts which will have been implemented by the time the April-May edition reaches you.

Instead, there are smiling pictures of Executive Board members Kevin Madge (Lab) dishing out awards, Tegwen Devichand (Lab) and Jim Jones (Ind) in a sea of ribbon cutting, self-congratulation and good news.

As the council is well aware, for many people Carmarthenshire News is the only way they get to see what their local authority is doing, and the picture they are presented with bears little resemblance to reality, as some voters in Hengoed will discover shortly when services they rely on are cut and they receive another sharply increased demand for council tax.

So it is good news that coverage of what our council gets up to is about to receive its biggest shake-up in years with the launch of two new titles - the Carmarthenshire Herald and the Llanelli Herald - sister papers of the Pembrokeshire Herald which has played a major role in uncovering council sleeze and abuses of power on the Western Cleddau.

Control over media reporting of council news has been a top priority at Carmarthenshire County Council since Mark James arrived at the end of 2001. The council's press department was beefed up and is now the largest operation of its kind outside Cardiff. Despite cuts to everything else, press and PR have been spared. The council's own newspaper has undermined struggling local newspapers, taking advertising revenue and readers away from them, and editors who upset County Hall have found that life can be made very difficult.

Newspapers which report news not to the council's liking have been threatened with the loss of valuable council advertising. On at least one occasion that threat was carried out, and at least one editor paid for his independence with his job when the council went to the publisher to make its grievances known.

On a regular basis editors who publish items not wholly to County Hall's liking have received telephone calls from the council's press office, and on occasion those calls have come from the very top, including a demand to withdraw an FoI request for disclosure of senior officer pay.

Declining sales, intense pressure on advertising revenue and pressure from publishers for whom revenue is more important than journalism, have all combined to make our local newspapers very vulnerable to bully boy tactics - with predictable results. In the case of one title currently, those results look very much like Stockholm syndrome, with a weekly dose of stories praising individuals who not so long ago were complicit in an attempt to shut the paper down.

In Pembrokeshire the Western Telegraph was seen as little more than a mouthpiece for the council, and painful though the arrival of the Pembrokeshire Herald was for that paper, there has been a big change in the Telegraph's reporting.

Even more encouragingly, it seems that the Herald has succeeded in growing the market for local newspapers.

Staffing levels on the existing local titles have been successively cut back in recent years and are now down to the bare bone. With no fat left to cut, the launch of two new titles will mean that they face a fight for survival, and some may not succeed.

Hard though it will be, their best hope of staying in business will be to re-focus on reporting local news and sticking two fingers up to County Hall.

For more on this story, see the Press Gazette.


Anonymous said...

This is great news(!) for local democracy in Carmarthenshire. The people of Carms. need to know about the shenanigans in County Hall and the Herald should help to get this news out there. Da iawn! Can't wait to read the first edition.

Anonymous said...

Great news that the Llanelli Herald is about to start operations. I look forward to some objective reporting.
The Llanelli Star had better take note, and rejig the political balance of its content.

Redhead said...

Report CCC to Pickles:

Anonymous said...

Llanelli Star is a Labour rag. It covered the Neil Kinnock fundraiser but not the Dafydd Wigley one. Balance?

Anonymous said...

I wonder why your Carmarthen News came wrapped in plastic and mine didn't???

I am eagerly awaiting launch of Carmarthenshire Herald -- any idea what date it launching? Off to cancel my subscription to the Journal... :)

Anonymous said...

Super! The very moment it is understood that it is not possible to control every newspaper by cracking the whip the problem is no longer.
The bully boys will be forced to put the whip down.
Though one must feel some sort of sympathy for those who felt forced to succumb to threats in the past it is possible they may never be able to regain credibility. It may be too late to become brave now.
I do not know the source of the following quote but how true it is. "It is easy to be brave when far away from danger".
With that in mind,let us not forget the one which did stand up against all threats and suffered for it.
The South Wales Guardian. Their own stand still deserves respect

m1books said...

The best news for some time - I have already placed a weekly order in my local newsagents and asked them to get copies on the shelves. This paper will certainly give the puppets in the CCC press office a kick up the backside. Some in depth interviews with local residents, tax payers, charity workers and others holding up the creaking system to tell it like it really is would be great! And no more grinning photos of the top brass...

Anonymous said...

Hope they do a feature on the treatment of whistleblowers too!

Delyth Jenkins