Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Not invited to the party

It seems that the Gazette enjoys a cosy relationship with the local 'old school' politicos in South Tyneside, if this weekend's stunt, grandly described as an 'election broadcast', is anything to go by.

The leaders of the Lib-Dems, Labour, Conservatives, Progressives, and the two flavours of Independent (despite the indies not being officially registered as political parties) were all offered the opportunity to produce a short video clip to be streamed from the Gazette's website, along with attendant publicity in Saturday's edition of the paper.

However, two parties were left out in the cold by the Gazette. The Green Party and the BNP.

The Gazette (the editor I presume) excused this arbitrary decision on the basis that the Greens and BNP don't currently have councillors. This justification doesn't stand up to scrutiny - unless of course you resort to the juvenile 'it's my ball' gambit.

The 'no councillors' argument falls victim to simple reasoning. Even the neurologically challenged of the BNP could manage to muster a couple of firing synapses and make a simple deduction - if you withhold publicity from selected parties, the relationship between publicity and voting means there's a reduced chance of those parties getting votes, or councillors. And presumably subsequently banned from getting publicity the next time round.

So, could there be any credible reasons why the Greens and the BNP have been left out of the Gazette's little on-line party?

Looking at the scumly BNP, I can understand why the Gazette would want to withhold a platform from them. However, the Gazette has not been averse to giving the BNP paper space in the past so this doesn't seem like a reasonable explanation. Besides, there is an argument that the BNP are their own worst enemy and giving them space to shoot themselves in both feet would serve democracy, rather than harm it.

If the Gazette wanted to avoid publishing outlandish and offensive beliefs then readers would have been spared the witless ramblings of Mike Hallowell long ago.

The Green Party has been fairly harmless and has managed to stay out of the personalised warfare being waged in council. The party has maintained consistent involvement in local waste issues and campaigning against incineration. So nothing extreme there.

Unless anyone can think of another conclusion, it looks like an uneven playing field is precisely what the Gazette's editor wants.

Holding the privilege of being the only local daily newspaper in South Tyneside, the Gazette has an ethical responsibility (although admittedly not an editorial one) at election times to promote the principles of democracy, especially when you consider that it's democracy which provides the mandate for free speech.

I don't expect objectivity and balance from the Gazette. That would be naive. Anyone looking at the publicity given to the Khan circus over the last year would have detected the whiff of bias.

The Gazette editor can only in good conscience extol the virtues of democracy while at the same time respecting it by extending a fair opportunity for all the parties to promote themselves. Otherwise, there is hypocrisy, a word I don't use lightly.

By allowing a chosen cadre to contribute to the on-line 'election broadcast', the Gazette has stained the concept of democracy and failed to recognise an absolute right to free speech.

I suppose there's also something to be said for the voracious ambition of all the 'parties' that took part in the broadcast, happy to do so whilst some of the competition was arbitrarily excluded.

So much for democracy.



Yesterday's Gazette election web page says:
"But will South Tyneside Council's ruling Labour group feel the force of voters' wrath against the Government? Or can they stave off the challenge locally from the Conservatives, Lib Dems and a raft of Independent candidates?"
No Green Party or BNP mentioned here, and now the Progressives seem to be dropped.
"And don't forget all the local political party leaders have recorded exclusive video messages on our website to tell you what they stand for and why they want your vote."
I have highlighted the 'all'. Untrue and presumably since the editorial knows they've excluded two parties, dishonest.

Yesterday's newpaper editorial, ironically headlined "Voice of South Tyneside", takes it further:
"You can also visit the Gazette's website and hear the pledges from the leaders of the political parties in our video broadcasts."
'All' has evolved into 'the' political parties. The page opposite the editorial also features mugshots of the six featured party leaders.

At least Curly provided parties with an opportunity to publish a 'mini manifesto', and it's been pointed out to me that chances are that Curly gets more traffic than the Gazette website anyway. However, that doesn't get away from the fact that the Gazette's web initiative have been transferred to the newspaper.

1 comment:

Michael said...

There is an argument that whatever the Gazette does is irrevelant as nobody reads the thing anyway. However, it's still the only newspaper in South Tyneside (even if half its news is lifted directly from Sunderland) and it has a duty to include all points of view equally.

Can't say I'm surprised, though...