As I have reported countless times on this blog the County Council has a real problem dealing with negative stories in the local press. I'm sure the same goes for the national press too but they're the bigger boys and will not succumb so easily to threats. I raised this issue only the other day (The question of editorial control again) Today's Western Mail reports on the latest attempt at 'blackmail' against one of our smaller local papers, the South Wales Guardian. One of the Assistant Chief Executives was clearly tasked with 'glossing over' the leak and coming up with an explanation to minimise the dire message this story illustrates. He has failed. Threats to withdraw advertising from the Carmarthen Journal over the publication of negative stories were widely reported a couple of years ago and slammed by the AM and MP - clearly things are no better. It is curious that reputation management is such a high priority with County Hall that it is prepared, on a regular basis, via financial threats, to control the editorial output of our local papers. Shameful.
Here's the article;
"A county council has been written to by an Assembly member and an MP after evidence emerged that it was appearing to withdraw advertising from a local paper whose coverage of a story it did not like.
Earlier this month Carmarthenshire County Council pulled an advert from the South Wales Guardian - owned by the Newquest Group - in response to a story in which traders expressed concern about possible delays to a regeneration scheme for Ammanford's town centre.
The council's press manager emailed a member of the authority's marketing department stating; Due to the continuing negative publicity by the Guardian and the concerns expressed by all those present at the Ammanford town centre steering group held this week, I do not think we should be placing adverts with them until this issue is resolved, as the group felt the Guardian was not supportive of the town centre which they should be in a local paper.
In a joint letter to council leader, Kevin Madge, MP Jonathan Edwards and AM, Rhodri Glyn Thomas said;
"You will no doubt be aware that a number of members of Ammanford Town Council are themselves traders in this town. As democratically elected members of that town council they have every right to state their opinions and make representations on behalf of their electors. The South Wales Guardian, along with other newspaper publications, has the legitimate right to report the business of that and any other council. The decision by your county council to remove advertising completely undermines the notion of free press - a founding element of any democracy.
We can arrive at no other conclusion than to consider the council's bully boy tactics as an outrageous form of blackmail more benefitting the sort of actions seen in dictatorships"
The council's Assistant Chief Executive, Chris Burns responded "The intention was to meet with the editor next week to discuss concerns that had been raised in the steering group regarding a front page story in the Guardian. In the meantime one single advert was put on hold. 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"
Cneifwr has blogged on the issue; Called in for a chat - Carmarthenshire and press freedom