Local papers letting the powerful off the hook

I, too, mourn good local newspapers. But this lot just aren’t worth saving | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian

And he mentions the Cambrian News … this was the local paper in Aberystwyth, where I studied from 1995 to 1998, and at the time was a rather grand broadsheet and, as I recall, had a rather lively letters page to which I contributed at least twice. I vividly recall the debate over fox-hunting, in which the Tory candidate, Felix Aubel, who I was told was convinced he was going to win the seat in the 1997 election (he came 4th), defended fox hunting against all comers — except me. I wrote that he went on and on about defending rural traditions, but his party’s handling of BSE had jeopardised a far more important rural ‘tradition’, namely agriculture itself, and that I didn’t think farmers would vote for him after the Tories had destroyed their livelihoods just because he defended their right to chase foxes across the countryside. He never replied to that.

Still, they did have a tendency towards petty-mindedness, including printing the full addresses of anyone who got a record at the local court, even if for something like driving without insurance, and when four students were up before the beak for sitting in the road in front of the Queen’s car when she visited the National Library, they attempted to stop the Cambrian News printing their room numbers, but failed, and the paper did it anyway. Like, when you print someone’s address, you write whether they sleep in the back bedroom or the front?

The guy who owns the paper runs 230 papers, and after the Iraq war broke out, decreed that his papers wouldn’t criticise the decision to go to war:

His company, which runs 230 papers, is independent, free from debt and booming, but it suffers from many of the diseases that afflict the rest of the press. When the Iraq war began, Tindle ordered his editors “to ensure that nothing appears in your newspapers which attacks the decision to conduct the war”. His letter was reproduced in the Totnes Times, with the following comments. “In a brave move, which could easily be seen by some as censoring the news, Sir Ray ordered that once war in Iraq was declared his newspapers would not carry any more anti-war stories … As editorial manager of eight of Sir Ray’s titles, I am proud to say I totally agree with his decision.”

The paper defends itself here against another aspect of Monbiot’s story, but not with regard to Tindle dictating that there should be no criticism of the Iraq war. Monbiot claims that the local press defends the interests of the powerful because it’s owned by them. Then again, this guy sounds like a small-scale version of the American newspaper baron who was renowned for his hands-off way of owning newspapers in the mid-20th century; even allowing his papers to take different positions on segregation from North to South. So, this kind of intevention is not inevitable with a corporate newspaper.

Still, I’ve never understood the validity or significance of the paper’s “family owned since …” claim. It makes it sound like it’s owned by a local family, rather than by a family out of area who own numerous other papers (and besides, the Murdoch papers are, and the Maxwell ones were, in part a family affair). Why is that any better than being part of a chain that’s owned by its shareholders? And when a paper is dictated to regarding content by its owner, how is it “independent”?

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