Monday, 25 July 2011

Does Cheshire West and Chester Council put pressure on our local press?

A story about CWaC Council staff altering papers hit our local press on the 23rd June 2011. [Date amended, please see correction from David below, however, this doesn't change the thrust of this post] Unfortunately this was old news because the story had been broken by the Scottish press a week earlier.

Why did it take longer for a negative news item about CWaC Council to find it's way into our local press, then only one paper, and why does it appear there are so few negative stories about CWaC Council in our local press?

A story about Copeland Council may hold some clues. When the Whitehaven News wanted to run something negative about their council, the council threatened them with legal action. When this didn't work they threatened to withdraw their co-operation on future stories and advertising.

That case gives us an insight into the three tools available to all councils should they wish to put pressure on a local newspaper to 'do as they are told'. Tactics which would be more difficult to implement with larger newspapers that had no connection with CWaC or our local press.

Legal threats/action:

Councils are funded by the taxpayer and accordingly can waste vast sums on legal action/threats. The legal threats against the Whitehaven News is an example of that, as is South Tyneside Council's threats and legal actions against Mr Monkey. Also see UPDATE 24th January 2012 below.

Advertising revenue: 

Local Press often rely heavily on Council advertising revenue and the last thing they need, especially in these difficult times, is for the Council to remove this valuable income stream.


Fortunately for the press this tactic has a serious downside for the council. Whilst our local press needs the co-operation of the Council the Council also needs the co-operation of the local press.

For where would the Council be if the local press didn't print their positive spin press releases? In addition, would Councillors like it if the local press stopped printing their vanity photos every time they attended a none event? No, they wouldn't, like triple zzz list celebrities councillors need the oxygen of positive publicity.

Another example can be found with Barnet Council and the MetPro scandal. With Barnet we have a council that ignored it's own rules, employed an unlicensed security firm without a formal contact, failed to carry out checks on MetPro's financial status, its insurance or criminal records of staff but still paid them £1.2 million.  However, this scandal was NOT exposed by their local press but only by the determined actions of a few local bloggers. WHY?

Here are a few stories which I believe should have received much wider coverage and investigation by our local press. I will leave it to the reader to make their own mind up as to why they didn't.

The comments made by the leader in his message to staff (2009)
The sale of County hall
Our council wants to charge for all FOI requests
Cheshire West and Chester Councillor who lives in New Zealand
Member's budgets could be used to buy votes at the taxpayer's expense
Whistle-blowers, compromise agreements, bullying and pay offs
Unlawful gagging clauses?

FOOTNOTE: The Barnet Bloggers were praised by Eric Pickles for their efforts in exposing the MetPro scandal.

UPDATE 26th July 2011: The story which is still available at the Chester Chronicle and in much greater detail from national on-line sources was removed from a number of other local newspapers within days of it first appearing.

The Bearsden Herald (Johnston Press PLC)
Lancashire Evening Post (Johnston Press PLC)
The Leigh Reporter (Johnston Press PLC)
Wigan Today (Johnston Press PLC)
Lancaster Guardian (Johnston Press PLC)
Lytham St. Annes Express (Johnston Press PLC)
UPDATE 13th September 2011: Liverpool City Council is another council which doesn't like negative press. So much so they are willing to stop 'working proactively ' with any local paper that dares to print anything negative about them.

UPDATE 24th January 2012: Papers "gagged" by legal costs, MPs are told.

MP Gisela Stuart said the situation was “deeply troubling” and questioned whether it was undermining regional newspapers trying to carry out investigative journalism.

Mr Wallace replied: “Absolutely. To my mind the essentials of policing courts and local councils is absolutely critical to local media.

“Many of these councils and police forces have very high-powered PR machines and lawyers who make it very difficult for regional editors to go about their business and to hold government in particular to account.”

My comments: My sentiments exactly.

Read the full story from the source Mirror



    Cheshire West and Chester Council staff sacked for changing notes
    Jun 23 2011
    by David Holmes, Chester Chronicle
    STAFF at Cheshire West and Chester Council altered records relating to the care and treatment of a disabled man and ‘fundamentally affected’ the course of a High Court case, a judge has said.
    A senior support worker – referred to as ‘A’ – and other employees at the council had been subjected to disciplinary proceedings for gross misconduct and dismissed, said Mr Justice Baker.
    The judge said records were rewritten after a High Court hearing. He described the misconduct as an ‘extraordinary incident’ and said it had ‘seriously impeded’ the process.
    Details of the alterations emerged in a written judgement of a High Court dispute about the care of a 38-year-old disabled man, referred to as ‘P’ by the judge.

    Mr Justice Baker said in his judgement that another member of staff had drawn the attention of the council, which is based in Chester, to the alterations.
    The council confirmed two staff members were dismissed and others disciplined. The council is appealing the judge’s decision to determine that the treatment of ‘P’ warranted a deprivation of liberty order.

  2. Care to respond to the main question David?

    Does Cheshire West and Chester Council put pressure on our local press?


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