Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
27 OCTOBER 2009
Q200 Philip Davies: Exactly. So now
we are getting somewhere. Are you happy to concede now that you
are not interested really in your local residents knowing everything?
Remember, your local paper hardly goes to any local residents.
That is why you need to do your stuff. If you are worried that
your local media does not go to many households and not many people
listen to the radio stations, that is why you need to do your
council publication. Surely all the more reason to start putting
some of the negative stuff in there, so all of your local residents
know what the council is getting wrong?
Councillor Loveday: Mr Davies,
I think the difficulty is that the starting point is that we are
not there to set up a newspaper; the purpose of the newspaper
is as a vehicle to communicate with residents and, necessarily,
we are going to communicate the messages that we need to communicate.
Q201 Philip Davies: That you want
to communicate or need to?
Councillor Loveday: That we need
to communicate, because if we did not communicate with them, then
when it comes to changes in library opening times or the decline
in a particular tertiary retail frontage which requires some support
from residents by advertising it, then that would not get done.
It is a communications driven operation rather than us setting
out to produce a democratic document. That is the first thing.
The second thing is that local newspapers may be an important
democratic tool in many parts of the country, but the model in
West London is that they have failed to do that. We have now the
highest broadband penetration of any local authority area in the
country and things have moved on. When people want to hold us
to account they do so in other ways, they do not do it these days
by buying and writing in to local newspapers. As to the suggestion
that we are not held to account when those of you who were at
the Labour Party Conference will have seen trenchant criticisms
being made of our local authority from the platform, if you do
a Google search of our council you will find that there is a very
vibrant market out there for criticising our local authority and
we welcome the debate, but I am afraid the debate these days does
not take place in local newspapers in our part of the country.
Maybe in other parts of the country, but not with us.
Q202 Philip Davies: It certainly
does not take place in this newspaper, that is for sure, because
this is just positive spin. I am just going to take you all in
turn, but we will start off with Hammersmith and Fulham. This
is, let us face it, council propaganda masquerading as an independent
newspaper. There is nothing here to the casual reader that would
indicate that this had anything to do with a council publication.
This is masquerading as an independent newspaper. If you are so
proud of your publication, let us have it plastered all over it
that this is a council publication so that everybody who reads
it knows exactly where they stand when they read it. Why are you
not upfront about what this is?
Councillor Loveday: I can bowl
for Britain on the subject of propaganda, and Sefton Delmer and
the radio stations that were set up in this country during the
war, and the distinctions between black propaganda and other propaganda,
and so on, but in terms of residents knowing that this is a council
newspaper, my simple answer is that we do test this, and the latest
survey showed that 80% of residents said it was clearly a council
newspaper. People are aware of that. I suspect that 80% is a pretty
good score by any means.
Q203 Philip Davies: I will give you
a better score, which is 100%. I guarantee to you that, if you
were to put on the front of your paper (and plaster it quite prominently)
that this is the newspaper delivered to you by Hammersmith and
Fulham Council, you would be able to improve on your 80%, you
would probably be able to get to 100%. We would all know where
we were and also you would not need to spend any money testing
out whether or not people knew; you would be able to know straight
away that people knew. I know you are obsessed with saving money
at Hammersmith and Fulham Council. I have given you a perfect
money saving idea, so can I now expect you to save money on testing
it out and plaster over it that this is council propaganda so
that your residents know exactly what it is they are reading?
Councillor Loveday: Can I ask
you a question?
Q204 Philip Davies: No, I am asking
you a question.
Councillor Loveday: Will you give
us the £400,000 to put it through our paid-for local media,
because that is not going to happen.
Q205 Philip Davies: I am asking you,
on here, to make it abundantly clear to your residents that this
is a council publication, right on the front page. You are saying
how good it is. Why are you ashamed of it? Surely you should want
to be proud of the fact that the local authority is putting out
this kind of propaganda. Let everybody know why you are hiding
your light under a bushel.
Councillor Loveday: The majority
of copies, I think, certainly did have a strapline reference.
Q206 Philip Davies: I am just unlucky,
Councillor Loveday: No, I have
not followed the details of the straplines on the various editions.
The front cover, of course, is a slip advert, or a wrap-around
Q207 Philip Davies: Yes, inside is
Councillor Loveday: Inside this,
obviously, the front page
Q208 Philip Davies: Yes, I know exactly
what you are doing: you are putting out propaganda and masquerading
it as independent news.
Councillor Loveday: Propaganda
is a loaded word.
Q209 Philip Davies: It is indeed.
Can I move on quickly. I want to quickly take up Portsmouth and
Stevenage as well. You did say that there were no pictures of
any local councillors on yours.
Councillor Vernon-Jackson: Yes.
Q210 Philip Davies: But I have just
Councillor Vernon-Jackson: Absolutely,
but there is nothing with any editorial from any of them. We tell
people who their councillors are, and so the copy of that was
signed off by all three parties and their spokespeople to make
sure it was clear it was not in any way party political.
Q211 Philip Davies: Nobody is saying
it is party political. This is, again, Stevenage here. No indication.
It says, "The magazine for Stevenage people", not "The
magazine for Stevenage Council". It would be more honest
if you put it was the magazine for Stevenage Council on the front.
Ms Taylor: It does have a back
page with all the councillors listed in it, so I think it is fairly
obvious that it is a council publication.
Q212 Philip Davies: Do you think
then that local newspapers would do more for community cohesion
if they printed half the paper in Nigerian, as you seem to have
done in your publication? Will that help with community cohesion?
Ms Taylor: That was a specific
project which we did. We did a number of different articles about
people that had come into the town, giving their impressions of
the town in both their own language and in English, and that was
specifically designed to both draw together the Nigerian community,
the Filipino community (because we did one in Filipino) and to
let some of the people who were not minority ethnic communities
know what the impressions are of the town when you come into the
town, and it has been very successful in the town. People have
really enjoyed those articles.
Q213 Philip Davies: Is Nigerian the
only other language spoken in Stevenage?
Ms Taylor: No, that was series
of articles. There was a Filipino one; there were a number in
different languages. There was a French one, an Italian one and
a Chinese one.
Q214 Philip Davies: If it was demonstrated
to you that what you were doing was actually putting your local
newspapers out of business, if that could be demonstrated to you,
would you still carry on with your propaganda or would you ease
off and think, "Hold on a minute, keeping a local independent
newspaper is actually in the bigger picture important and we do
not want to be doing anything that might put them out of business"?
Ms Taylor: There is no evidence
to suggest that we are.
Q215 Philip Davies: But if it was.
Ms Taylor: No, we would not stop,
because we have a duty to inform our residents of what is going
Q216 Philip Davies: The good news.
Ms Taylor: No, of what we spend
their council tax money on. We have a duty to support our voluntary
and community sector in promoting what they are doing in the town
and when you go through periods like the recession, Vernon talked
about his leaflet, we have a similar one that we produce for our
residents, giving them contact details and vital information of
agencies that could help them through the recession period. It
is mainly focused on information, and I think the dividing line
between information and propaganda, obviously there is a PhD thesis
in that that you could write, but we do have a duty to provide
information, we have a duty to involve our community in what we
are doing and we try and use our publication to do that as far
Q217 Philip Davies: Your case will
be strengthened if you ever put anything that was critical of
the council in it, but the fact that you do not, I am afraid,
undermines your case.
Councillor Vernon-Jackson: But
we actually in Portsmouth spent £970,000 a year of taxpayers'
money supporting the local paper.
Q218 Philip Davies: Supporting the
local community, putting in adverts and things.
Councillor Vernon-Jackson: Actually
some of it, at least, is wasted money, public money, that has
little or no effect, but we do it because we are told we have
to do it by statute.
Councillor Loveday: Can I answer
the last question simply because ultimately, as I understand it,
the main concern of the committee is to deal with the effect of
local authorities on the commercial side of local and regional
media. Mr Davies asked the question, if it were proved or if it
were established that our activities on our newspapers would have
an adverse impact on the local papers, would we still do it? That
is ultimately a question of political priorities. Local authorities
do many things which potentially impact on the commercial sector,
and a good example would be providing and supporting business
start-up units for small and medium sized businesses. There are
people out there in the market who provide those and, potentially,
by helping provide and support small and medium sized enterprises
by providing those units, we impact on the private sector, and
we would have to take a view as to whether it was better to spend
large sums of public money in supporting the media locally or
spending it on other things, and I am in no doubt that some local
authorities would go in one direction and some local authorities
would go in the other direction.
Chairman: Let us move on to slightly
calmer waters, maybe different waters.
Q219 Mr Watson: Can I ask you about
your advertising policies. Presumably you have got guidelines
about what advertising you would take and you would not take in
Ms Taylor: We take no advertising
in ours, so it is not really a question for us.
Councillor Loveday: We have not
got any formal advertising guidelines, as I understand it, but,
again, we are still governed by the Local Government Act in terms
of party political matters.