Thursday 3 April 2014

Uncle Tom Media

The Echo: Mouthpiece of authority.
Pictured is a typical example of how local media has become the mouthpiece of authority. I wrote to the editor of the Echo, Colin Channon, and challenged him on his use of the expression "council tax dodgers".  His reply was glib... 

"Dictionary definition for ‘dodger’: one who persistently evades a responsibility, such as tax dodger, draft dodger. If someone doesn’t pay a council tax, which is a responsibility, doesn’t that make them a dodger?"

The word "dodger" implies deliberate, premeditated (and persistent) evasion, which in my case is entirely correct since I do not feel any obligation to pay our idle parasites hard-working public servants. But in the case of so many (in the face of recent reforms) it is simply untrue. Not everyone is on a PAYE contract and not everyone is capable of managing Direct Debits - and cannot necessarily pay when the schedule says they must.

Further to this, councils have been passing on council tax "debt" to bailiffs as early as July for a first offence. Hardly persistent evasion. Their boilerplate corporate response is that they employ bailiffs "only as a last resort", which, as we know, is a fat lie. Our council's rapacious greed knows no boundaries.

Channon has used the word "dodger" as shorthand for council tax payers in arrears, and in so doing insults a great many of his readers who are simply struggling to pay. Such language makes The Echo appear to be the mouthpiece of our greedy councils. It is an ugly practice and it is lazy, especially if you've done any investigation into council tax enforcement and the unlawful behaviour of bailiffs. For a long time now, councils have been upholding fees for phantom visits while the police turn a blind eye, calling it a "civil matter". That is the very reason this blog exists.

I have previously remarked on how our local media has become an "Uncle Tom" to local government.  Now it seems the relationship is becoming official.  Newsquest, the parent company of The Echo is moving to sack a number of its editorial staff. It seems they are no longer needed now that the police are posting directly to local news websites.

Amanda Brodie, chairman of the CIOJ’s Professional Practices Board, described the practice as "wholly unacceptable". In a statement she said: “It is not the job of newspapers to be a mouthpiece for the police or any other body – their job is to hold them to account, not cosy up to them in this way. Channon doesn't seem to think so.

Sealing the deal, we learn from Press Gazette that the Crewe Chronicle (Trinity Mirror) is considering sharing offices with the local council. Cheshire East council leader Michael Jones said: "I'm very happy to offer to the Crewe Chronicle team that - if they do want to be based somewhere we can find a place for them in the municipal buildings. We have got a radio station in there - I'm sure we can find space for them in there. We need our local paper to be vibrant and strong."

I'm sure they do, but for what purpose? Since one is the mouthpiece of the other, why not cut out the middle man? There has been much debate in recent years over the future of local media. The narrative is that they are dying and struggling to compete. For me, that day cannot come soon enough - when our lazy, privileged and wilfully ignorant local media withers on the vine, so that properly independent and honest players can enter the market.

This is, oddly, why I am not all that concerned by Leveson press-regulation.  It will not stop us from getting the truth from our media, since the media don't much care for the truth anyway. For that, we have fearless bloggers, and people like you who are willing to read them. If the legacy media wishes to regulate itself into oblivion, why on earth should we care?

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