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GREENWICH: Time to look at council newspaper nonsense
11:43am Tuesday 13th April 2010 in News
Greenwich Council newspaper Greenwich Time’s report of the authority’s debate on whether or not to allow Olympic equestrian events to be held at Greenwich Park was very different to our story on the same debate.
In this special report we ask why two articles about the same event could be so different and we try to ask some of the councillors present which report was the most accurate.
WOOLWICH Town Hall staged a heated meeting on March 23. Tempers flared, voices were raised and a petition bearing 13,500 signatures was handed in objecting to the planned use of Greenwich Park for equestrian events during the Olympic Games in 2012.
Despite the opposition, the plan was approved with 38 conditions attached.
Our report talked about the protests. It had to. News Shopper is a fair newspaper, duty bound to present facts in the correct context and with no bias.
Greenwich Time clearly does not play by the same rules. Its report never mentioned the protests, the heated exchanges, the petition, the unprecedented length of the meeting, the threats of legal action and the animosity displayed by some to Lord Coe.
In fact, it was a strong contender for the most craven, simpering piece of pro-council nonsense ever to appear in its pages.
To read Peter Cordwell’s report you would think the decision was taken with no opposition in a room full of assenting voices. That’s just not true.
Read News Shopper's report of the meeting:
Read Greenwich Time's report of the meeting:
Greenwich Time tries to be a proper grown-up newspaper. But while it prints its stories through a red rose-tinted prism, it cannot be taken seriously.
This is nothing to do with competition.
News Shopper’s shoulders are strong enough to bear decent competition. In fact, we welcome it.
But – when one paper strives to be editorially independent and relies completely on the money it is able to attract in an open market every week and the other is propped up by a guaranteed bottomless pit of council tax and its news agenda is wholly in support of the ruling party – this is not a fair fight.
This isn’t personal. This isn’t political. This has nothing to do with the make up of the ruling party. This is about fairness and transparency.
Why is Greenwich Council allowed to spend so much money – and we’ll go into exactly how much it is spending next week – on propaganda?
And why should anyone reading Greenwich Time take it seriously?
A letter to Greenwich Time
NEWS Shopper editor Richard Firth has written to Greenwich Time. The following is an extract of his letter:
By my reporter’s reckoning, there were 300 protestors at the meeting. This was not mentioned in Peter Cordwell’s report.
He also believed campaign group No to Greenwich Olympic Equestrian Events (Nogoe) submitted a petition against the event, signed by 13,500 people. This was not mentioned in Peter Cordwell’s report.
He also understood there to be a threat of legal action from Nogoe over Greenwich Council’s right to make this decision. This was not mentioned in Peter Cordwell’s report.
It was Mark’s understanding that 30 presentations, most of them opposed to this plan, were made at the meeting. This was not mentioned in Peter Cordwell’s report.
Mark also believes he heard Lord Coe barracked during his speech and saw him hounded by several people as he left. This was not mentioned in Peter Cordwell’s report.
Mark tells me several people expressed their concerns at the level of detail in the application and about the potential for long-term damage to the park. This was not mentioned in Peter Cordwell’s report.
Labour councillors in Greenwich – who banned them talking to the papers?
NEWS Shopper tried to contact six Labour councillors who were on the planning board on the night of the meeting to find out if they thought Greenwich Time’s report was a decent representation of what happened.
All of the councillors were emailed on April 6 with News Shopper’s article along with Greenwich Time’s coverage – but only one replied.
Councillor Denise Hyland was called at 12.21pm on her office number but we were put through to the council’s communications department. She emailed back referring us to the communications department.
Councillor Sajid Jawaid answered his mobile phone at 12.25pm but told us to call the communications department for a response.
A message was left for Councillor Peter Kotz on his home number at 12.27pm but his office number told us to speak to the communications department.
A message was left for Councillor Clive Mardner at 12.29pm and Councillor Steve Offord at 12.33pm.
Councillor John Wakefield said he did not want to comment on what Greenwich Time had written because he had not read it.
We told him about the email and he said he would think about it.
We never heard from him – he’s presumably still thinking about it.
Why wouldn’t they talk to us?
They are, after all, elected representatives. We don’t want to talk to the communications department, we want to be able to tell our readers what the people they voted for actually think.
Could it be the case that the councillors are banned from talking to the press in case they dare speak out against the Labour party line?
Some Greenwich councillors are allowed to talk to us...
CONSERVATIVE Councillor Spencer Drury (below) said: “They are hoping to fool residents with their warped version of reality - that, there’s no chance of the Tories winning in Greenwich with Greenwich Time going in people’s doors.
“It’s basically a Labour party paper printed and paid for by taxpayers' money. If it was an information booklet published quarterly then yes, fine. With its own section for Chris Roberts it’s clearly propaganda. It’s a state paper pushing out a state version of what’s going on.”
Green party Peninsula ward candidate, Darryl Chamberlain, said: “If Greenwich Time purports to be a ‘newspaper’, then it should report a full range of views, not censor them because the council’s Labour leadership disagrees with them.
“Indeed, the previous week’s Greenwich Time boasted about how good 2012 would be for Greenwich – even though it was being distributed before the planning meeting, at which the council is supposed to act neutrally.
“This isn’t a matter of being for or against the Olympics coming to Greenwich Park, it’s a matter of the council’s conduct. How can people trust Greenwich Labour with the Olympics if it’s acting as if the whole thing was a done deal?”
What the council press office told us
A GREENWICH Council spokesperson said: “Greenwich Council supports a vibrant local press, playing a vital role in scrutinising the council.
“Greenwich Time (GT) has a different but equally important function – telling residents about the 800 services we offer.
“Through the support of our weekly choice based lettings adverts in GT, almost 6,000 families and individuals have found a new home in Greenwich.
“No other publication is distributed to the whole of the borough, GT provides equal access to information which cannot be matched by local newspapers.
“News Shopper has raised criticisms on the GT report on the 2012 equestrian events application at the council’s planning board.
“Far from all the attendees being against the application, many spoke out in favour of the plans, or cheered other speakers such as Lord Coe.
“You claim that of the 30 speakers at the meeting “most of them were opposed to this (LOCOG’s) plan.” In truth, there were 17 speakers in favour of the plans and 17 against.
“We welcome all form of legitimate criticism. However, we do not apologise for producing a weekly publication which gives local people access to jobs, homes, services and celebrates good news to all parts of the borough.”
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