A county council has launched an astonishing attack on a weekly newspaper editor over claims that it introduced an “advertising blackout” on the title following a critical story.
South Wales Guardian editor Mike Lewis claimed it had lost out on £9,000 of advertising from Carmarthenshire County Council since running a comment piece criticising the authority in September.
But in a strongly-worded statement issued today, the council dismissed the claim of an advertising blackout as “nonsense” and branding the paper’s editorial coverage as “biased and unbalanced.”
And it suggested that the Guardian spend more time trying to increase its circulation instead of “demanding to be subsidised with public money.”
In an editorial published earlier this week, Mike accused the council of acting like an “Eastern bloc state from the 1960s.”
It quoted council figures which showed that during the eight weeks between September 27 and November 21, the authority spent £9,551.69 in the county’s three newspapers, with just £224.99 or 2.3pc spent in the Guardian.
However the council has hit back saying it has not managed to establish any sort of relationship with the paper under Mike’s editorship.
It said there was “no obligation on the council to advertise in any particular newspaper” and said the Guardian was by far the least-read newspaper on its patch.
The council’s full statement reads as follows:
“We are astonished to have read so many incorrect statements on the front page of this week’s South Wales Guardian.
“It is nonsense to suggest that the council has introduced an ‘advertising blackout’ following recent publicity regarding a Sainsbury’s supermarket.
“Similarly the comments made regarding the Carmarthenshire News publication are equally wrong. It is not a council publication but is produced on behalf of a range of public sector organisations in the county including health, police, fire and rescue services, the University and College and the county association of voluntary organisations. The cost to the council is not £148,000 a year, as is claimed, or even a fraction of that sum.
“There is no obligation on the county council to advertise in any particular newspaper. Decisions on advertising are commercial and are taken based on the most effective and appropriate use of resources.
“When placing advertising we need to find the best value for money. We cannot simply spend taxpayers’ money with local newspapers to subsidise them and support their running costs. That would be a misuse of our funds.
“It is true that we might sometimes place an advertisement in one local newspaper but not others. We only have a certain amount of money for such purposes and the fact is that The Guardian has a far, far smaller circulation than its rival papers the Carmarthen Journal and the Llanelli Star.
“Surveys that we have carried out over the years show that it is the least widely read of the three local newspapers. In the most recent consultation, figures showed that 36% of people gained information from the Carmarthen Journal; 26% from the Llanelli Star; and just 11% in the South Wales Guardian.
“Maybe the Guardian’s energy would be better spent on trying to increase its readership rather than demanding that the county council advertises with the newspaper as if there were some entitlement to be subsidised with public money.
“It is true that, over the years, some of the editorial coverage in the Guardian has seemed to us to be biased and unbalanced. We are surprised that the newspaper has singled out a recent article as if it were an isolated incident.
“The truth is that this was but the latest in a long line of articles which we would feel did not present a full and honest picture.
“The county council has, in fact, made numerous complaints and had many discussions with the Editor and senior figures with the paper. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts we have not managed to establish any kind of working relationship with the South Wales Guardian under Mr Lewis’s editorship.
“We appreciate the value of local papers, and work with them as best we can, including the South Wales Guardian, and we continue to try to provide South Wales Guardian readers with information on services and developments.
“We send Mr Lewis press releases, photographs and information as we do all other media. We have even agreed to work with them this Christmas on a free parking initiative which will be promoted via their newspaper. A large part of the reason for this is to help local newspapers with their circulation, as well as shoppers and local traders by boosting trade.
“However, no business has an automatic right to have their customers money spent with them – and this applies to newspapers as much as to any other business.”