John's Jottings for May 2002

John Ward

Please note: these Jottings are purely personal comment, and do not necessarily or directly represent the policy of either the Conservative Party or the Conservative Group on Medway Council.

Medway's Local Media

This is always a vexed question, as how can anyone be absolutely sure what are the motives of the local press and other media? Apart from very clear cases of libel or similar, the media are in effect their own judges, also acting as censors of anything they don't like.

Fortunately in Medway/Kent the local radio and television stations seem to have generally been very fair and even-handed in their coverage of local issues, and much of the Medway local press could be said to be the same. However one prominent local newspaper changed emphasis significantly a couple of years ago when it lost a couple of its key staff, and their replacements seemed to be either unaware of a lot of what was really going on, very gullible, or else politically biased (though of course they wouldn't admit to any of these).

Being charitable, I like to think that it was a combination of the first and second of those three possibilities, and this view is supported by a more recent trend by that newspaper to drift back toward a more balanced and less slanted style of reporting.

So, why is there so much difficulty getting the quality of coverage we might expect from some sections of our local press in particular?

Well, for a start, one has to bear in mind just what material is available and what will sell newspapers. A study of the local press in this and other areas suggests strongly that the most useful ingredients are:

  1. Pictures of cute children, either singly or in groups. Schools are an easy method of filling a page or two from just one visit, as are outdoor events.
  2. Human interest stories, whether of elderly couples' wedding anniversaries, an award made to a Medway resident or perhaps a local performer getting work in the bigger world outside our Towns.
  3. Have a go at the Council: an old staple, always good for several column-inches and more when there is a controversial issue involved.
  4. Write whatever a large enough number of readers will want to believe, regardless of the truth, just to get their support and continued patronage.
We've all seen some if not all of these in just about every issue of a local newspaper, haven't we?

The last two are what concern me and a number of other Medway citizens, especially with the preponderance of lazy reporting methods. The most common of these is looking at reports for Council/Committee meetings and knocking up something based on that, rather than taking the trouble to actually attend the meeting and report on what really happened. Thankfully that seems to be on a very gradual decline, which could at least partially account for the recent improvement in reporting standards in certain quarters.

So what about political bias? I realise that I haven't so far commented on this.

No, I'm not ducking this question; and indeed I have a certain amount of evidence to strongly support such a contention in respect of certain publications, in particular from which political group(s) they have have not used press releases and the selection, rejection and editing of letters for publication (my own letters page illustrates this to some extent). However this is mostly from at least a few months ago now, and it might be as well to put it all behind us and just keep our minds alert whenever we read the local papers.

Next time: Disruption: the "Yobbo culture" and Travellers