A war of words between the Herald Express in Torquay and a local councillor who accused the paper of being “corrupt” has continued, with the councillor claiming his phone had been “red hot” with messages of support following his comments.
During a meeting of Torbay Council Coun Chris Lomas claimed that the paper had acted improperly – with biased coverage – during the run-up to a referendum on whether Torbay wanted an elected mayor.
The comments were quickly dismissed by editor Brendan Hanrahan, but the paper agreed to publish a letter from the councillor in full, in which he continued to outline his case.
He said: “The phone was red hot on Saturday and most of Sunday with messages of support from councillors, officers, Torbay employees, teachers, friends, but mainly and most importantly, from total strangers.
“Mr Hanrahan’s activities have obviously not gone unnoticed. Not one call was hostile.
“Different dictionaries give a similar variety of meanings for ‘corrupt’. The Collins Concise gives ten shades of meaning. I could argue that at least five apply!
“We’re not talking here about money changing hands in brown paper envelopes, but about corrupting the way in which information is passed on to readers; about the alteration, exaggeration or omission of information to further political aims.
“The editor should ensure that his newspaper prints the truth. If, for whatever reason, a lie appears, a retraction or correction should follow. Particularly where there is no competition from other papers, the Herald Express should be politically neutral and present a balanced viewpoint.
“This has not been the case. The influence of the Herald Express in the mayoral treferendum was overwhelming. Mayoral candidate and colleague of Brendan Hanrahan, Nick Pannell, described Mr Hanrahan as ‘the most powerful man in the Bay’. He was right.
“I have no criticism of 99 per cent of staff at the Herald Express. They do what can be a difficult job, usually very well. Trying to fill a newspaper serving a relatively small area, on a wet Monday afternoon, when the most exciting event has been ‘cat stuck up tree’ is not easy.
“The temptation is for the editor is to pick on people who can’t adequately fight back, i.e. councillors, and sensationalise some otherwise lesser story.”
Jim Parker, assistant editor in charge of content, said: “Coun Lomas should know only too well that his response would be printed in full because, despite his claims, the Herald Express prides itself on being open, balanced and fair.
“Yes, the editor will from time to decide to launch a campaign to back a particular issue — the mayoral referendum being one example. That is his job, but there is nothing political in that.
“As a journalist who has a major say in the daily content of the Herald Express I would like to emphasise that the newspaper is neither left wing, right wing or any other form of wing. We aim to play it straight down the middle and at the same time reflect the views of our readers.
“I take exception to claims that we have ‘doctored’ a story and purposely omitted a response from the council. I see that as a slur on my professional integrity.
“It’s not how we work. But getting that message across to some people brings head and brick walls to mind.”