It’s always flattering to hear your words used in Parliament. Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush, quoted a big chunk of this blog (with acknowledgement) in his contribution to last week’s Commons debate on “council Pravdas” – free propaganda papers, either weekly or fortnightly, produced at great public expense by local authorities and delivered to all homes.
Complete with TV listings, restaurant reviews, gardening columns and sport, among much other non-council-related content, their aim is to destroy the independent local press, thus ensuring that the only news you read about your local council is written by your local council. It is one of the most blatant democratic abuses I can think of.
Slaughter is facing a serious challenge to his seat from the Tories in May’s election, and believes – I think rightly – that his local Tory council, Hammersmith and Fulham, is using its fortnightly propaganda rag, H&F News, and its advertising budget, to dent his chances. As he says:
“There are magazines, newsletters, banners in the streets, poster vans driven around the borough, whole tube stations kitted out with advertisements, and online material, all advertising the Conservative party, in effect, in all but name.” Slaughter’s own name is, he says, “prohibited from appearing in H&F News,” while his Tory opponent “gets half a page to himself.”
The MP who opened the debate, Sutton’s Paul Burstow, also borrowed, by the looks of it, large parts of a piece I wrote for my old newspaper, the Standard. All credit to Slaughter, Burstow and the others who spoke for highlighting this. And all credit to the independent local press for starting to fight back.
Earlier this month I wrote how H&F News’ independent rival, the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle, was itself going free to take the Pravda on. Yesterday at the Oxford Media Convention the Chronicle’s ultimate boss, Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey, launched her own blitz on the “propaganda dressed up as journalism” of the council sheets.
And this week, in my own borough, Greenwich, one of the local independent papers, the News Shopper, has launched a big campaign against our own (Labour-controlled) Inner-City Isvestiya, Greenwich Time. As the front page (click over the ad-page to see) proclaims, “time’s up.” Geddit? Inside, everyone you can think of, Labour MPs included, lines up to slag off the council’s ludicrous parody of journalism.
Time may not be up for the Pravda press, but it’s definitely running out.