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‘Ad blackout’ council accused of stifling free speech

A council involved in a row over an “advertising blackout” has been accused of stifling free speech by blocking a debate on press freedom.

The Plaid Cymru group on Carmarthenshire County Council drew up a motion about freedom of the press, following claims by the South Wales Guardian that it had lost out on advertising after publishing a critical piece.

The group’s motion asked councillors to express support for a free press and it expected this to be discussed by the full council in the chamber.

But it says that chief executive Mark James has instead referred the motion to an Executive Board member for consideration in private, rather than allowing it to be discussed in public.

Plaid Cymru group leader Coun Peter Hughes-Griffiths said: “It is very alarming that a motion asking Carmarthenshire County Council to support press freedom has itself been censored.

“How ironic that, in trying to stand up for free speech, we find ourselves being gagged. Elected members have been barred from discussing a matter of public concern by the chief executive.

“It is exactly this kind of obstruction to democratic debate that gives this council such a bad name.”

The motion by the group said: “This council respects the freedom of the press and recognises the essential role of local papers in communicating, educating and sharing information about the council’s activities and services amongst local communities.”

Plaid Cymru is the largest political group on the authority, which is controlled by a Labour and Independent coalition.

The row between the Guardian and the council broke out last month when editor Mike Lewis accused the authority of cutting advertising to the tune of £9,000 after it published a critical article in September.

This led to the council launching a scathing attack on the title, saying its claims of an advertising blackout were “nonsense” and branding the paper’s editorial coverage as “biased and unbalanced”.

The paper then hit back with further articles seeking to refute the council’s statement that commercial reasons were behind the reduction in adverts.

Carmarthenshire County Council has not yet responded to requests for a comment.


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  • January 8, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    It wasn’t so long ago the business of a council – and what it would or would not debate – was decided by the political leadership.

    Now they seem to have meekly handed their power to the vastly overpaid executives.

    God knows why, it’s not the chief officers who’ll be begging the public for re-election come May.

    They seem to forget that.

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  • January 8, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    While canvassing during last May’s election campaign, it struck me that the democratic deficit in local government concerned people on the doorstep as much as anything else. The public feel powerless and angry because they feel their voice is not heard. This is due to more and more control being put in the hands of council officials and the small number of councillors on the Executive Board.The local member has little opportunity to express the concerns, needs and hopes of those who elected him or her to office. This is an unacceptable and dangerous trend – and one which councillors of all parties or none should be aware of and challenge, as we are doing as a Plaid group on Carmarthenshire County Council.

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  • January 8, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    The next elections to Carmarthenshire County Council are not until 2017.
    Enough said?

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  • January 8, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    I’m a long way now from Welsh politics, but the principle is still that the Chief Exec is a functionary; there principally to guide the political leaders on their manifesto commitments. Chief Execs who get above themselves can be put in their place by getting the political leader to reign him in. Plaid are the largest group on Camarthen so I thought it would be easy to bring this up as a supplementary latched onto a loosely connected question in public forums.

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  • January 8, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    Patricia does make a valid point, that any council has elections only at four or five year periods means that the ruling clique will do whatever they want until the next election looms then they will suddenly become coy and responsive. The council employees have no such consideration especially when councillors are supine.
    Make election a rolling affair every two years and involve the public more!

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  • January 8, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    Jim, a nice idea, but unlike many councils in England, Carmarthenshire does not have any public forums where members of the public can ask questions of their council. It does have a byzantine procedure to enable members of the public to ask questions (without supplementaries), but questions have to be submitted to the chief executive, who may veto them on a wide range of grounds. Unsurprisingly, there have been no questions in recent years.

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  • January 9, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    Shouldn’t Carmarthenshire County Council adhere to the Seven Principles of Public Life?These are:

    Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.

    Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.

    In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

    Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

    Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

    Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

    Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

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