Thursday, 27 November 2014

Press Matters

Here and there over the past couple of years I have been encountering complaints by opposition councillors on Medway Council regarding the bi-monthly magazine that goes out to our households in the borough: Medway Matters. They have even referred it to the Secretary of State (SofS), claiming it is in breach of what is called the Publicity Code for Local Authorities.

Now, I am no expert on that code, but – although I have long-standing concerns with the publication – I doubt that it is actually in breach, and even if so, only marginally, which could be easily remedied with specific guidance from the SofS's office.

I do believe it to be, in parts, a little too close to being a Cabinet-dominated vehicle for that select band of councillors (just ten of the 55 elected members), as an inspection of a couple of recent years' worth of issues will reveal. For anyone with the time to spare and sufficient interest, I'd suggest going through all of the back issues for, say, the last five years for a more complete assessment.

However I do see that one charge thatis being made, if not strongly, is that because it takes in-house (i.e. the council's own) advertising – which helps fund it by the way – this is connected with the plight of our local press. This is specious, as the reason both local and national printed media are losing circulation is because more and more people are reading their news, sport and the rest of what appears in such publications not in print form, but on-line. This applies all around the country, not just here in Medway, where it has to be said all three such local news print outlets run busy websites themselves.

Although the graph at this page is a good year and a half out of date, the trend for all national UK newspapers is clear and has continued since, as Guido and others have periodically reported.

For example, the Kent on Sunday is still going strong, but it long ago dropped most of its YourMedway type publications, which were editorially identical to the Sunday product anyway, apart from pages 1 and 2 which were the only pages covering the specified area. I soon bored on reading mainly about what had happened in Maidstone or Ashford or Dover. The only other newspaper that was then still available was Your Tunbridge Wells(!)

The point here, though, is that almost all other areas in the county were similarly affected, thereby taking the Medway Matters element completely out of the equation: it is a red herring. Different, but not dissimilar in this core point, stories apply to the Messenger and News, the latter now publishing on-line only, and in a joint 'Medway and Maidstone' form.

If one looks at the amount the council 'spends' on its advertising in Medway Matters in a recent year, it's around £20,000 – which represents a drop in the ocean relative to even a local newspaper's annual advertising revenue. In fact, the council still advertises some things in the local press anyway (because it is more appropriate, for legal reasons, or something else that requires it), probably much more than the above amount, so the effect of 'Matters' is even less pronounced than might be assumed at first glance.

No: the real reason the opposition councillors don't like the council's magazine is because they don't have any editorial control over it. As we know from all left-wing régimes, and even many Labour-run councils, they are always dependent on propaganda in order to get any votes from outside their core activist and support base.

This is why, when the boot is on the other foot in such councils, there can be a much more serious issue with council publications and related matters (of which there are a fair number, by the way: it's not just magazines) and I have learned of quite a few of these. I might be quiet on this 'blog nowadays – though that might change soon, as we have local as well as national elections coming – but I am never idle, and my sources feed me all manner of solid evidence about what (usually) Labour-run councils are up to, in many ways.

Thus the months to come could again be very interesting on these pages – but I haven't yet decided how to play this January-to-May 2015 period of activity here, or even if I shall participate at all. By the end of the year I should have a clearer idea on that; but in the meantime this post is a reminder of my traditional myth-and-spin debunking style that many will well remember...

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