The recent decision by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee to reject Eric Pickles‘ proposals to restrict the publication of council newspapers has reopened a debate on the role such publications should play.
In one corner is the Government, which is strongly critical of councils spending public funds on ‘town hall pravdas’ that they see as little better than propaganda magazines. They are supported by regional and local newspaper publishers who cite them as a threat to their businesses because some charge advertising revenue and publish weekly editions, putting them in direct competition with their papers. Publications like H&F Newsand East End Life (both published by London authorities) are cited of evidence of this trend.
Andy Gray’s sacking today after another of his puerile outbursts (this time to colleague Charlotte Jackson last month, above) has taught him a harsh lesson. Someone of his experience should know that ‘private’ (as in off air) comments are still fair game if someone within earshot finds them offensive enough to share with the media. In fact, if you utter them in a room full of people, it isn’t very ‘private’ at all, and therefore probably best kept to yourself.
For evidence of this, you only need to look at the coverage that followed yesterday’s announcement. The Guardian,who pursues this story with an almost obsessive zeal, went to town on it again yesterday, with a mountain of analysis and questions about the police, governance at News International and David Cameron’s judgement.
The coverage on the website of News International sister paper The Sun, however, is much less critical.
You can see Mr Coulson’s statement, issued yesterday, in full here.
It emerged yesterday that Avon and Somerset Police took the rare step of banning ITV News from its morning press briefing because it had run a story the previous night that was the force thought was unfairly critical of its investigation. The ban was lifted, and the report did not threaten to undermine potential legal proceedings (as other reports have done). But it’s a measure of how tense things have become, and illustrates how the media risks misjudging the balance between reporting freely (which should always be allowed) and irresponsibly (which the police are right to act against, in the interests of finding Joanna Yeates’ killer).
Meanwhile, the Bristol Evening Post’ssplash yesterday reported how media organisations were written to by suspect Christopher Jefferies’ lawyers and warned of their probing into, and reporting of, their client’s life. The high number of reader comments underneath the story (not all are relevant, admittedly) demonstrate the strength of feeling and interest there is locally about the case.
When I worked in newspapers, it was made clear that you did not write stories about the antics of fellow journalists; the public was ‘not interested’ in such introspection. When the news media does report on itself, you can be sure that something is seriously amiss, as Roy Greenslade points out here.