Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Greenslade: 'Council papers should be put to the sword before they kill off the local press'

Roy Greenslade in his Evening Standard column today is highly critical of local council newspapers and their negative impact on the local press, particularly in London.
He writes:"Spokespeople at the councils of Tower Hamlets and Barking shrug off criticism by pointing out that they are merely fulfilling a Government requirement to inform their citizens about what is happening in their boroughs.
"The majority of their residents were unable to obtain that information because the sales of commercial papers have gradually fallen to such low levels and, arguably, those papers have also reduced public service journalistic coverage, mainly due to editorial cost-cutting.
"I have some sympathy with that argument. But I cannot agree with it. Though it sounds very democratic, it is deeply flawed because it ignores the fact that council-run papers are undermining the only publications that hold local power to account."
He adds: "Council-run papers are, in some respects, no more than "Pravda publications". Even if they do not specifically push council policy - and most do -they certainly do not criticise that policy. They may act as a (heavily censored) forum for critics, but they do not campaign against decisions. Nor, of course, do they investigate councillors or council officers.
They are anti-democratic in both spirit and in practice, and their disappearance will not matter one whit to the public... It is time to put all such publications to the sword before they kill off independent local papers."

When I interviewed the editor of a local council paper for a piece on Town Halls and the local press in The Journalist he told me: “Some council papers are trying to ape the look and feel of a local paper, but what we do is propaganda. When I report the council’s budget proposals I look for positive stories and don’t mention the £6 million worth of cuts. If I reported that I would be sacked. I don’t tell lies, but I always look for positive stories.”

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