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FREEDOM OF PRESS THREATENED BY BULLY LOCAL COUNCILS
 

Star date: 14th May 2013

SURVEY CONFIRMS COUNCILS BULLY LOCAL PRESS AND RESTRICT INFO

A devastating survey of local press editors by the Newspaper Society for Local Newspaper Week reveals that councils routinely bully local newspapers by threatening to withdraw advertising if they don't like what's written. Meanwhile, a massive 70% of editors reported that getting information out of public bodies is getting harder...

… And we thought it was just the Salford Star that was treated like Al Qaeda for daring to hold Salford Council up to account…

Full details here…


Newspaper Society Survey of local press editors Salford Star leaflet Salford Star leaflet
Salford Star leaflet
click image to enlarge

This week is Local Newspaper Week, and to `celebrate', the Newspaper Society has released the results of its survey of local newspaper editors which shows starkly the attitude of local councils to press freedom.

More than a quarter, or 27%, of local newspapers have received a threat from a public body to suspend advertising as a result of journalistic activity – like an article they don't like or even a reporter asking the wrong kind of question or merely attending a meeting.

Salford Council spends thousands of pounds advertising with the Salford Advertiser and Manchester Evening News, so the Salford Star attempted to ask the respective editors if their papers had ever been threatened, or if they tone down coverage to keep the Council advertising budget sweet.

Unfortunately the Advertiser's editor was away until next week, while the MEN editor didn't return our call.

Of those newspapers which had been threatened, 40% had seen the threat of withdrawing advertising carried out, the Newspaper Society survey found.

While the Salford Star has never had a penny in advertising out of Salford City Council, tame community magazines in the city which don't question its antics are kept alive with advertising and funding from the Council and its public body partners - M3*, Essence etc (see previous Salford Star article for further info – click here).

Meanwhile, 70% of editors surveyed said it was getting harder to squeeze information out of local public bodies, 22% said it was about the same, and only 8% said it was getting easier.

The Salford Star could write the book on this…

• five Freedom of Information requests currently outstanding, one dating back to last December

• the blocking of a Salford Star request to see elements of Salford Council accounts for last year - which is a legal right for all citizens

• numerous requests for Salford Council comments ignored

Indeed, since Ian Stewart got the job as Salford Mayor, the Salford Star would argue that the Council's press office has been politicised, with an anonymous e-mail from that department even accusing the Star of being `negative' – for asking a question about loans to Salford Reds? (see here)

Meanwhile, both Mayor Ian Stewart and his Assistant Mayor, Gena Merrett, have accused the Salford Star of being `extremists' and `liars' (see here and see here and see here). When the Star tried to take Gena Merrett to the Council's Standards Committee over the slurs, Salford Council never even had the courtesy to reply, apart from to acknowledge the email.

And so it goes on and on and on. And, as the Newspaper Society survey reveals, the reality of a free local press giving citizens a right to know what is happening with their money and in their name is being eroded by the day.

Speaking about the findings of the survey, Newspaper Society president Adrian Jeakings said: "Local newspapers' ability to hold authority and the powerful to account on behalf of their readers underpins local democracy in Britain and we are in serious danger of seeing this become irreparably damaged."

43% of the editors surveyed said that the current legislative and regulatory framework affecting the press had a negative effect on press freedom – with the three biggest obstacles data protection, libel and privacy.

Before Salford Star Freedom of Information requests were routinely thrown in the bin by Salford Council, the excuse for not providing information was always `commercial confidentiality'. When Salford University used this excuse to block a request on the University's rent to Peel Holdings at MediaCityUK, it took the Star over a year, via the Information Commissioner, to get them to release it (see here). 

One editor who took part in the survey – obviously speaking out anonymously for fear of losing advertising or being branded an extremist – said…

"It seems that these authorities' only aim is to protect their reputations rather than give useful information out to the public. Often this manifests itself in simply not getting back to us on queries and hoping we'll go away…"

But the local press cannot go away – or democracy is effectively dead. Maybe it is time for a national debate on self serving councils and public bodies which believe they are above accountability.

The Salford Star will be responding in its own way next week…

* Members of the Salford Star editorial team helped to launch the first edition of M3 but left in disgust when it was censored by Salford's Urban Regeneration Company the night before it went to press.

** The Newspaper Society survey was conducted amongst 37 editors of local papers – for full details click here

Michael Felse wrote
at 18:23:44 on 16 May 2013
The M.E.N. article says the ground ...was built with a £25m loan from the council. So why does our elected Labour Mayor insist the details are confidential. The shock of the size of this loan (quoted by the M.E.N.) is enough to make us all vomit on seeing how Salford elected Councillors have spent our money. What a bad and sad week for Salford Labour Party.
 
News hound wrote
at 18:23:06 on 16 May 2013
Of course MEN are not accepting comments, don't want to rock the boat and all that.
 
White wrote
at 16:14:54 on 16 May 2013
mea culpa. I should have noted that it is the MEN on-line
 
White wrote
at 16:14:48 on 16 May 2013
There is a brief report in today's [16 May] MEN about secrecy surrounding the loan to Salford City Stadium. MEN are not acepting comments on the story.
 
not happy wrote
at 06:26:38 on 16 May 2013
What’s happened to our Salford Mayor he was supposed to have meetings with (USUC) United Service Users Committee about the Drop ins and their user’s but never came back with an answer, instead Counselor Conner made a statement that all the drop ins would close and put out into the community i.e.’ Gateways these are not suitable for people with mental heath problems; There is a community meeting at the Swinton civic center next Wednesday the 22nd May with Counselor Conner but no Mayor ( where is he) . Another thing was said that if USUC found another suitable building the council would consider it. This was done but the Council rejected it be cause it was not owned by them. So by doing the Councils job again USUC have found a Council building that could be used, so let’s see what Counselor Conner as to say about this one. Let’s hope that one of the local papers pick this up and report it. Not taking anything away from Salford Star they have done a great job of supporting USUC in their cause and hope they will carry on doing this. Looking at the charts I wonder if this is why any of the local papers have not picked up on any of the stories about mental health problems, we have had stories about mental health problems on the T.V program the One show and other news programs but none of the local papers wrote about it and come to think about on any mental heath problems and there’s another thing that’s not been reported in the local press yet, the closure of the night shelter by the Council saying it was illegal to keep it open. Yet again another ploy by our Tory Mayor to save money. SO MUCH AGAIN to help the old,needy,and vulnerable.
 
In training pete wrote
at 06:25:19 on 16 May 2013
If Bob is correct then I volentier to be a prison officer never really thought about the job before but I do think I would get immense satisfaction from keeping these dangers to socity locked away.
 
Stephen Morris English Democrats NW Chairman wrote
at 18:41:13 on 15 May 2013
The Salford Advertiser has long had the nick name of the Hazel Blears Weekly, the MEN has also a long tradition of supporting labour, it is only with local news sites like the Salford Star that the true level of mismanagement of council taxes and local services get highlighted to the voter. Salford labour is a costly labour and has turned the city into a one party state,
 
bob wrote
at 14:32:07 on 15 May 2013
I think you only have to look at the treatment of Geoffrey Berg by salford council and it's OFFICERS, again he is at the High court in London on thursday in a case against the council and his treatment by them. He also has an on going libel case against 6 LABOUR councilors, over a letter they published in the advertizer. It would not surprise me if we ever get rid of these labour clowns that the full extent of possible illegal activities and mismanagement will come to light. We may need to build a new prison just to accommodate them.
 
jack wrote
at 07:11:41 on 15 May 2013
asking questions is extreme? we could have done with more extremism when saville was alive. journalists should ask questions instead we have reporters who repeat from the script whatever the agenda of the day is. all media that is not state sponsored gets attacked, i'd rather read independent news which actually asks questions over listening about horse meat for a month, aahhh the horse meat!
 
not a brain dead labour voter wrote
at 07:10:06 on 15 May 2013
there is only one opposition party now in Britain, AND THAT IS UKIP, spread the word
 
insider wrote
at 07:09:47 on 15 May 2013
the council stopped payin advertising to the main newspapers so as it could fund that crap magazine Life in Salford. Its Pravda by any other name. Total coucnil bullshit to hide the corrupt practices ranging form giving mates jobs without advertisng them and backhanders hidden in the accounts to Salford (failing) Reds!
 
Tahir Chakotai - Joint Chair Of TIETARA wrote
at 15:41:47 on 14 May 2013
I think it's about time that Salford, and Manchester's local papers got some backbone. I remember in 2006, when the Salford Advertiser, was certainly not scared of printing adverse stories concerning The Salford Council. The only stories, the Salford Advertiser prints now, are fabulous words of praise for the mayor, and how our M.P. Mrs Hazel Blears, is doing fabulous work. All of these stories are rubbish, and give the impression that journalists from the Salford Advertiser, are living in a fantasy world. I think it's about time the local papers showed the councils, a two finger salute, and once again, become the voice of the people.
 
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