Sunday, July 02, 2006

Playing the Race Card?

When we started this site we said we wanted to report the stories that the local press was either not willing, or able to run. One such story is something that happened during the local election campaign in Blackheath and Westcombe.

In the campaign for the ward the local Labour councillor and candidate Alex Grant put out a leaflet which alleged one of the candidates for the Conservatives had expressed "extremist" and "poisonous" views. The leaflet referred to an article written by the Tory candidate, Peter Whittle, in the Sunday Times, and attributed a sub-editor's comment to Mr. Whittle. The false allegation was then repeated at a hustings.

From what we've been able to find out, letters were exchanged between the libel lawyers Carter-Ruck and the local Labour Party. The result of this correspondance was an agreement that no more of the libelous leaflets would be delivered and a retraction leaflet would be delivered to all the properties that had received the original.

On election day, Mr Whittle missed out on becoming a new councillor by just under 100 votes. It's impossible to know for sure whether the false allegations in the leaflet, and its repetition at a hustings were responsible. What does worry us significantly though is the apparent news blackout on the story in the local press.

We assumed that it would have been mentioned by the press recently as the issue was raised in the last Council meeting. As we understand it, an obscure procedural motion was called which allowed the leader of the Tory Group, Cllr Spencer Drury to make a speech which called on Cllr Alex Grant to resign. The procedure meant that only the Council leader Chris Roberts had a right to reply. Sadly there is no transcript of the proceedings but we're told that Cllr Roberts strongly defended Cllr Grant.

To be perfectly frank we're not sure what's worse. The use of a libelous smears, the lack of press reports, or the Council's leader support for the offending councillor.


Blogger Inspector Sands said...

It's probably a very difficult story to stand up unless you've got proper contacts in the parties concerned. But do you really expect the local freesheets to notice? It wasn't in a council press release, so they won't cover it.

The lack of any decent local media is part of the reason why Greenwich council gets away with so much.

10:55 pm  
Anonymous Angry Hack said...

Correct. It was a very difficult story to stand up. Plus at election time it is difficult for the papers to run stories which could be seen as inflammatory or favourable to one side or the other.

Also, I think your stance here is rather unfair. I know many of the local reporters and can assure you they do not spend all day knocking out press releases and working as the council's spin machine. They are journalists who have come into the profession looking for good, hard news stories and with the intention of holding different authorities to account. What you perhaps do not understand is there are certain constraints which mean they can't publish the stories, a. they want to write and, b. you want to read.

Next time you choose to criticse the local papers and their reporters, please try to bear this in mind.

1:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hear hear.
I knew about this story but was unable to run it because it was a party political tiff stirred up during an election campaign.
Labour tried to give me the story from the other side weeks before, but I knew it wouldn't fly.
The Tories weren't that bothered about the whole issue either.
I wish the job was only about bashing out poorly-worded press releases.
That would leave me more time to go online and shout the odds about what makes a good story.
Mercury reporter.

3:45 pm  
Blogger Inspector Sands said...

This isn't broadcasting, there's nothing stopping a local paper running a story about a row between two candidates if they can stand it up. Only the libel law would be a problem.

I believe the local reporters mean well. But their hands are tied - tied by mean owners in Newsquest and Trinity Mirror, who pay peanuts and force them to base themselves in Orpington and Streatham. How's anyone meant to get contacts from that far out?

Greenwich Council benefits from all this, because it doesn't have a South London Press/ Ham & High/ Islington Gazette/ East London Advertiser/ Kentish Times/ Newham Recorder/ Camden New Journal/ Croydon Advertiser (all but one are paid-for) scrutinising. All it has are underpaid hacks from miles out, disadvantaged from the start by tightwad owners. So the council gets away with anything it likes, while Trinity and Newsquest count the profits.

Convenient, eh?

Anyway, next time I read a news story in the Mercury or News Shopper which starts "A Greenwich school..." and it turns out it's in Eltham, I'll think of that comment about not knocking out press releases again - I know it goes on.

7:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you ever read a story from my fingers that begins "A Greenwich school" I'll hang up my notepad.
Mercury reporter

9:55 am  
Anonymous gmt said...

We can only assume the Mercury Reporter above isn't Glenn on page 14 this week then :)

9:31 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The story begins: Blindfolded...not A Greenwich School.
It's all in the details gmt.

2:55 pm  
Blogger said...

Angry Hack and Mecury Reporter, we thought we'd give you a couple of days to calm down before we replied to your comments.

Firstly did you read the article above properly or was it a skim read? We ask because the first sentence says "we wanted to report the stories that the local press was either not willing, or able to run." We accepted from the outset that there are often stories that are difficult to run.

Further more, our concern stemmed not from lack of comment by you during the election campaign, but the lack of comment from you since the issue was raised in a full and very public Council meeting. Hence we said we "assumed that it would have been mentioned by the press recently as the issue was raised in the last Council meeting."

Are we now in a situation where a post-facto report of the Council meeting is beyond the remit of the local press?

4:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well yes, a post-facto report is bloody hard since I wasn't there. Any report now would lose qualified privilege and run the risk of arguing on behalf of a specific party political viewpoint.
I contacted the Tories this week and they admitted they were glad to make a point to Chris Roberts at the meeting about the treatment of the Sunday Times journalist.
The original story was a significant one, but it was difficult to stand up.
The Mercury is not an anonymously-written blog and important stories depend on legal backing, balance, support from affected parties and dodging political crossfire.
Keep up the good work.
Mercury Reporter

4:47 pm  
Blogger said...

Was anyone from the Mercury there?

5:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aren't journalists supposed to be upstanding members of society. They never get into trouble with the law, do they?

2:30 pm  
Blogger The Ghost of Will Crooks said...

Surely the Clerks at the Town Hall could provide a transcript of the transaction of the said meeting of Council if a formal request was made to them?

I gather that our beloved Leader in his reply achieved merriment by claiming there were internal divisions within the Conservative Party (such a thing never disturbs the Labour Party!) and proclaimed that it had all been the Conservatives fault in the first place for picking a candidate who could not find happiness (as, of course, we all do) in the Woolwich melting pot. This Mr Whittle apparently implied a sense of violence between our communities (something which you will agree is simply unheard of) and is apparently the sort of chap (so our Leader implied) who would be unlikely to intervene in a stabbing on a bus just because those involved might be of a different colour than Mr Whittle himself (perish the thought!); I think we can all imagine how different the reaction of our Leader would be were he in such an incident.

I am puzzled by Greenwich Watch implying that there was something wrong in our “Council's leader support for the offending councillor.” Surely support from the Leader is something all Labour Councillors can be confident of?

10:30 pm  
Blogger said...

We're not sure that Mr Whittle was saying that he felt there was a sense of violence as such.

On page 2 of his article on the Times website it seems clear that he was referring to the findings of Darcus Howe in his documentary which referred to violence between the different ethnic groups in the area.

Mr Whittle piece seemed to us to be a wider critque that mutli-culturalism is, by it's nature, a divisive tool because it extenuates difference rather than promoting integration. That is obviously a question open to debate.

We do notice a distinct sarcastic tone to your comments though, we like it.

10:54 am  

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