A weekly editor has accused a local council of acting like “some Eastern bloc state from the 1960s” after it withdrew advertising following a critical article.
The South Wales Guardian says it has been subject to an “advertising blackout” from Carmarthenshire County Council since publishing a comment piece criticising the authority in September.
The paper has revealed that the authority has continued to spend money with the Guardian’s two rival Northcliffe titles, the Carmarthen Journal and the Llanelli Star, which between them gained 97.7pc of the council’s spending in the local press.
It comes after the council came under fire in July for temporarily withdrawing an advert from the Guardian in protest at a story it did not like.
In a piece about the latest move, Mike wrote: “The Guardian’s lone stand against Carmarthenshire County Council has been described by one political commentator as David v Goliath.
“Yes, the odds are uneven but, in all honesty, we never wanted a fight. Surely, in these times of austerity it is in the interests of everyone to pull together?
“But County Hall’s response to our hard-hitting editorial of September 19 criticising their now-notorious Sainsbury’s press release was to pull all advertising – a move which has cost us around £9,000 – despite a full page right-to-reply.
“To describe this as a third-rate decision by a third-rate local authority would be an insult to all those hardworking frontline county council employees (many of whom are Guardian readers) who help keep our county up and running.
“The Guardian has nothing but respect for them – but we do have a problem with a regime which acts like some Eastern bloc state from the 1960s.
“The most depressing aspect of all this is that the council continues to spend thousands of pounds on two local papers from a rival group.”
Council figures 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.
The figures were revealed on the same day the council was urged by politicians in the county to abandon its own Carmarthenshire News publication to help the local press, in the wake of the Leveson report into press standards.
Plaid Cymru AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas said: “Local authorities have a duty not to undermine local newspapers and we’re calling on Carmarthenshire County Council to join our campaign to secure the future of the local press in the county.
“The council should start by scrapping its own publication and direct advertisers to the independently-run publications in the county.”
The council press release criticised by the paper regarded the Welsh Assembly’s call-in of plans for Sainsbury’s stores in Llandeilo and Cross Hands.
13 December update: Carmarthenshire County Council has now issued a strongly-worded response to the Guardian’s claims which can be read here.