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Editor joins "Echogate" inquiry

A regional newspaper is at the centre of a political storm over “planted” letters to show the council leader in a good light and boost his image.

South Wales Echo editor Alastair Milburn and political and business editor Phillip Nifield have both been interviewed by Cardiff Council as part of its investigation.

Senior council officer Mike Doel has been suspended from duty after a letter he wrote to an activist, and a covering letter asking them to send the letter to the Echo’s Viewpoints page – all ended up being sent to the newspaper by mistake.

The council leader Russell Goodway had denied any knowledge of the affair, and the political activist also says he had no involvement.

The saga has been dubbed “Echogate” and came under discussion at a full meeting of the council as an emergency question.

It resulted in a major review of the arrangements by which members and officials work together.

This will include ensuring there is an “an appropriate division between the policy dimension on the one hand, and the public information, press, and media function on the other”.

Cardiff council said in a statement: “Following allegations made in the Echo on Wednesday, February 26, which the editor and political and business editor confirmed directly to the council’s chief executive yesterday, Mike Doel, the council’s corporate support officer, has been informed of the chief executive’s decision to progress a formal independent investigation.”

Coun Goodway issued a press statement which said: “I firmly believe that events, not just of the last two days but of the past few months does give us all cause to reflect on some fundamental issues.

“We do need to ensure that the press relations capability of this council is clearly defined and clearly accountable.

“These two distinct aspects of modern local government do need to be separated out – and I have asked the chief executive to come forward with proposals to ensure that an appropriate division is created in this council between the policy dimension, on the one hand and the public information, press and media function, on the other.

“It is a real concern to me that it is increasingly impossible these days for the council to publish a statutorily confidential document on yellow pages which does not almost immediately find its way into the press and media.”

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