Council rapped for advert threat
A county council has been strongly criticised by the NUJ after evidence emerged that it withdrew advertising from a local paper whose coverage of a story it did not like.
Carmarthenshire County Council pulled an advert from the South Wales Guardian – a weekly paper owned by the Newsquest group – in response to a story in which traders expressed concern about possible delays to a regeneration scheme for Ammanford town centre.
The council's press manager e-mailed a member of the authority's marketing department stating: "Due to the continuing negative publicity by the Guardian and the concerns expressed by all those present at the Ammanford town centre steering group held this week, I do not think we should be placing adverts with them until this issue is resolved, as the group felt the Guardian was not supportive of the town centre which they should be as a local paper. I don't think they would appreciate us spending money with them this week!"
In a joint letter to Kevin Madge, the council leader, Jonathan Edwards MP and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM said: "You will no doubt be aware that a number of members of Ammanford Town Council are themselves traders in the town. As democratically elected members of that town council, they have every right to state their opinions and make representations on behalf of their electors.
"The South Wales Guardian, along with other newspaper publications, has the legitimate right to report the business of that and any other council. The decision by your county council to remove advertising completely undermines the notion of free press – a founding element of any democracy."
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: "It is wholly unacceptable for a local authority or any other public body to withdraw advertising from a newspaper as a reaction to what it sees as negative publicity about itself. The freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy and one of the most important roles of the NUJ is to defend that principle. Attempting to suppress healthy public debate is no business of a local authority and I hope Carmarthenshire County Council will recognise its mistake and give a firm undertaking not to act in this way again."
Chris Burns, the council's assistant chief executive, said: "The intention was to meet with the editor to discuss concerns that had been raised in the Ammanford Town Centre management meeting regarding a front page story in the Guardian. In the meantime one single advertisement was temporarily put on hold. We spend quite a lot with the Guardian and there is no intention to stop this advertising."