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Editor rubbishes claims of ‘discrimination’ over begging piece

David PowlesA regional daily editor has strongly defended a column on homelessness which led to accusations that his newspaper was encouraging “discrimination.”

Eastern Daily Press columnist Steve Downes questioned whether volunteers helping rough sleepers through initiatives such as soup kitchens are “compounding” the homelessness problem in Norwich.

The piece led to a petition since signed by 600 people which has accused the EDP of encouraging “discrimination” and demanded advertisements are pulled from pages featuring opinion pieces.

However editor David Powles has stood by the piece, saying the view that handouts are not always the best way to help the homeless is one shared by many, including Big Issue founder John Bird.

In Steve’s column, he wrote that he did not give money to street beggars in Norwich, adding he would rather donate to a charity “that will use it wisely than give it to a human being with human frailties, who may use it to hasten their decline”.

In recent months, the Archant-owned EDP has covered the issue of homelessness by shadowing homeless people for stories, while David raised £1,400 for Norwich charity The Benjamin Foundation by participating in a rough sleep event.

The petition, launched by reader Tom Davies, accuses the EDP of  “publishing views that encourage discrimination and division of society (such as the ‘opinion piece’ that suggests that soup kitchens are detrimental to the issue of homelessness.”

“Not only are they directly and irresponsibly endorsing these views by publishing and giving such opinions a much louder voice….but they also directly profit from these articles, by pushing social media traffic onto their website, where they profit from ad revenue,” it states.

“To publish such an article after a week that has seen multiple homeless people perish in our county from exposure, I feel that the Archant editorial team should be ashamed of themselves at the lack of compassion in the very fact that they decided this was the apt thing to publish.

“I’d like to propose that any ‘opinion pieces’ should be published on a page containing no advertisements so that nobody profits from such views.”

David told HTFP: “The growing issue of homelessness in Norwich and Norfolk is one we have covered extensively over the past 12 months, giving a platform to the views of the homeless themselves and the organisations and charities tasked with helping them. In the past fortnight alone we have run 14 stories on the subject.

“Steve Downes’ column is part of a citywide, countywide and countrywide debate on this emotive issue. The view that handouts are not necessarily the best way to help the homeless is shared by many, among them Big Issue founder John Bird.

“Since publication of the piece we have presented the counter-argument from two of the city’s soup kitchens and published and will be publishing several letters on the subject, both agreeing and disagreeing with Steve.

“The debate will continue – it has to because it’s such a vital one for the city and county – and a free press has the right and the obligation to present sides of it which may be unpalatable to some. The basis for this petition is utter nonsense and we challenge the person who has set it up to provide evidence for the factual errors he refers to.”

14 comments

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  • March 7, 2018 at 8:44 am
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    Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, but close scrutiny suggests that this was an unwise column to publish. Did no alarm bells ever ring within Prospect House last week, or would any raised concerns now simply fall on deaf ears?

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  • March 7, 2018 at 10:54 am
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    It’s an obvious problem with columnists. They present a one-sided argument that is totally unfair. Littlejohn is the worst example, having to be controversial to justify his fat fee.
    This local piece was a perfectly valid topic but shows a lack of sensitivity by whoever edited it. (did anyone edit it?)
    Ishould have been done as a news feature with a (hopefully) balance of views. I am biased though. Papers have too many cheap views telling people what to think and not enough news to give them something to think about.

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  • March 7, 2018 at 11:24 am
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    I support the editor.It’s called free speech. You don’t have to read it. They way some people are going about these matters would mean that only articles that please people should be published. Get a life.

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  • March 7, 2018 at 11:33 am
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    I read it. It was badly written and trite, tbh, and offensive in that way.
    I thought at the time it was likely to cause offence and not in a healthy way, It’s perfectly valid for Dave to argue the homeless need more than a sticking plaster solution (as per John Bird).
    That is not the case in this piece. The column talks about people in flats getting up to beg and how homeless people are bad for shopping and tourism, among other things.
    The overall tone of the piece was completely lacking in empathy and showed no evidence of research or thought into a story of human tragedy.
    I agree with Paperboy, It was cheap.

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  • March 7, 2018 at 12:06 pm
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    Odd that with only 2 comments on this piece ( at the time of writing) and both fair points,’ Wordsmith’ seems to take exception to their points and free speech views, a tad too close to home maybe?
    Yes I agree, get a life

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  • March 7, 2018 at 5:27 pm
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    The view that hand-outs may not be the best way of helping the homeless is one thing. It’s a valid debate to have. But the column went way beyond that. Soup kitchen volunteers saw it as a direct attack which, they say, has already deterred people from seeking help at a time when it is most needed. The timing – when people are literally freezing to death – was crass. If a columnist is going to venture into such a sensitive area they should do so with care and research. This had neither: it was clumsy, tasteless and offensive.

    Archant’s defensive attitude smacks of an attempt to sweep it under the carpet. The editor’s words say one thing – the rush to print opposing views as an attempt to appease almost unanimous condemnation from readers, says another. The paper prides itself of being in touch with local people – this shows it is completely out of touch.

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  • March 7, 2018 at 5:29 pm
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    One other comment: yes everyone has the right to free speech, not everybody has the right to a platform. Such a platform requires responsibility and opinions should be well-informed.

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  • March 7, 2018 at 5:47 pm
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    “I’d like to propose that any ‘opinion pieces’ should be published on a page containing no advertisements so that nobody profits from such views.” This demonstrates a non-understanding of revenue distribution. An ad’s appearance on any particular page does not signify profit from that page’s specific editorial content, or imply endorsement thereof.

    Even if such a restriction were implemented, companies and organisations wishing to advertise would do so regardless, yielding the same payments, and their ads merely be placed elsewhere.

    Composing fast-changing pages of news/topical content to a deadline, it would be near-impossible to allocate print-ad positions on an ideological basis.

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  • March 7, 2018 at 6:16 pm
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    In response to Nelson:

    Wordsmith was surely addressing the thought-policing cranks quoted in the report, not the two HTFP commenters. However, contrary to Nelson’s apparent perception, the latter are also against free speech, while Wordsmith seems to support it.

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  • March 8, 2018 at 7:24 am
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    Francis Harvey seems to be talking about another age if he believes advertisers don’t call the shots and will go where they are put, they won’t, with poor copy sake numbers giving a reduced audience and with it poor response they’re already voting with their feet and using other publishers and media.
    Advertising revenues are at rock bottom and the reps will not turn down any request or demand for positioning, even going as far as to sell against a certain column or piece with the editor or page planners only being told after the ad has been sold,so while he is correct in as much as the revenue is not apportioned via placement,he is wrong to believe selling to position doesn’t happen and psfescarent replanned at the very last minute to accommodate an advert.
    I’m sure we have all had the call from one of the managers saying an ad has been sold “ which MUST go on page X”, or customer Y wants his ad next to XYZ “or they won’t advertise” and revenues such as they are and editors lacking clout, nine times out of ten the editor gives in.
    However in this case there has been so much fall out and bad feeling about the piece, I’m told many local companies are saying they’ll not advertise with Archant again meaning placement and fitting adverts in really won’t be an issue.

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  • March 8, 2018 at 11:03 am
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    There seems to be a notion that free speech means that people can write what they like, however much distress it causes. Welcome to the brave new world of “journalism”.

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  • March 8, 2018 at 11:21 am
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    “…Composing fast-changing pages of news/topical content”
    “….companies and organisations wishing to advertise would do so regardless”

    Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end….

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