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At what price a free press?

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County Hall has ‘attempted to deter investigative journalism’: Jacqui Thompson.

County Hall has ‘attempted to deter investigative journalism’: Jacqui
Thompson.

THE REVISED Press and Media Protocol for Carmarthenshire County Council is to be discussed by the Executive Board on Monday. This has been an ongoing exercise which officially began in January 2014 but which has been called for long before that.

County Hall has, for years, deliberately compromised the ability of the local press to report negative stories, it has attempted to deter investigative journalism, even adding that unique clause (currently suspended) to its constitution to provide funds to sue should anyone get too critical. The Council has even abused its position to ‘persuade’ reporters not to pursue Freedom of Information Act requests.

The nonsense of threatening to withdraw advertising funding from local papers as punishment for negative stories has gone on for years and, in the past, both the Carmarthen Journal and the South Wales Guardian have been in their sights; blackmail, in other words.

Late in 2012 a leaked email from the council press office gave overwhelming proof that a mildly critical story published by the South Wales Guardian had led to the withdrawal of advertising.

The Plaid opposition brought forward a Motion for full council to respect the freedom of the local press. The chief executive decided that this wasn’t going anywhere near full council and kicked it into touch.

Then opposition leader Peter Hughes-Griffiths said: “It is very alarming that a motion asking Carmarthenshire County Council to support press freedom has itself been censored. 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 matter was dealt with behind closed doors.

2012 also saw the long running saga over the Sainsbury’s press release, for which the leader, Kevin Madge, had his knuckles rapped by the Ombudsman for using the council press office for political attack.

The offending article had been signed off by the chief e xecutive.

Things also took a turn for the worse with the publication of the Wales Audit Office reports in January 2014 with the press office again galvanised into action to attack the auditor, politicians and anyone who disagreed with the Mark James world view.

Many controversial ‘press releases, including demands for the auditor to retract his opinions over his ‘unlawful’ findings have been attributed to unnamed spokespersons, this even breached the old protocol.

The emphasis on reputation management has been of paramount importance to County Hall, and readers of this, and Cneifiwr’s blog will know that the press office has not been called the Ministry of Spin without good reason. The first thing to suffer is always the truth. Internal emails show that defensiveness and damage limitation are the priority.

Another bizarre example, last year, saw the chief executive rejecting opposition budget proposals in the pages of the Carmarthen Journal.

Not only is the press office one of the most generously funded in Wales, recent figures unearthed by opposition councillors show that the wages bill for technical services (emptying your bins etc) has fallen by nearly 10% since 2009. The wages bill for the press office, on the other hand, has risen by nearly 13% in the same period.

Over the years numerous calls have been made to end the publication of the council propaganda free sheet the ‘Carmarthenshire News’. The decision to reduce publication from six to four editions per year has meant even more drivel and pictures of officials in hard hats has to be packed into each issue.

You’ll always be hard pushed to find a mention of an adverse report anywhere on the council website, let alone in the ‘media’ section. The link to the recent public report from the ombudsman was there for exactly the time required by law – three weeks. However, the nauseating press release announcing that the chief executive was staying, signed-off by Kev and Pam is still lingering as ‘news’, like a bad smell, more than six weeks after it first appeared.

The very recent WLGA governance review recognised the enormity of the problem and said that the council ‘will not seek to suppress or censor the activity of an independent press and media’.

The trouble is, leopards don’t change their spots and whilst a few tweaks to the protocol might tick boxes, the toxic culture remains alive and well, for now. It will take the continued determination of the local media, including bloggers to play their part in exposing the spin, pushing for change and making the local authority accountable.

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Cllr Kevin Madge elected as new county council Chairman

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THE new chair of Carmarthenshire County Council said he will work tirelessly during his term of office.

Cllr Kevin Madge, member for Garnant, takes the chain of office whilst celebrating 40 years as a councillor.

Taking the chair, Cllr Madge paid tribute to outgoing chairman Cllr Mansel Charles, member for Llanegwad, saying he had fulfilled his duties with passion.

Cllr Madge will chair the council for the next 12 months, with Cllr Ieuan Davies, member for Llanybydder, as his vice chair, and his wife Catrin as his consort.

“I’m very much looking forward to the year ahead, I will do my best for everyone. I will work tirelessly,” he said.

Cllr Madge has chosen the Trussell Trust, which supports a nationwide network of food banks and emergency food provision for people in crisis, as his Chairman’s Charity of the Year.

The Chair is the first citizen of Carmarthenshire County Council, and is elected at the Annual General Meeting.

Duties include chairing full meetings of the council, representing the council at formal and ceremonial occasions, welcoming visitors to the county, and attending and supporting events organised by local people and organisations.

Cllr Madge has been a county councillor since 1996, and a member of Cwmaman Town Council since 1979.

He also serves as chairman of the Royal British Legion Garnant branch, Garnant Family Centre and Cwmaman Meals on Wheels, and is a member of Amman Valley League of Friends.

He represents the county council on the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, and the Mynydd y Betws Wind Farm Community Fund, and is on the governing body of Ysgol Y Bedol.

A former pupil of Amman Valley School, Cllr Madge has worked in the Amman Valley throughout his life, most recently as agent and researcher to Dr Alan Williams MP until 2001.

A keen football supporter, he has served as chair and president of Cwmaman Football Club and spent 25 years as a Welsh League and Neath and District football referee.

He is married with two children and three grandchildren.

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‘UK Government should work with the Welsh Labour Government on Tata’

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LOCAL Assembly Member Lee Waters and Nia Griffith MP have called on the UK Government to work with the Welsh Labour Government to come up with a deal to protect steel making at Trostre, and across Wales and the UK.

Lee Waters AM met with representatives from Tata Steel on Wednesday to discuss the future for steel making at the plant following the reported collapse of the proposed joint venture with Thyssenkrupp.

During the meeting he stressed the need to protect the entire steel supply chain in Wales, including the high quality jobs at Trostre, and those that depend on its presence in Llanelli.

Lee Waters AM said “It’s clear that the support Welsh Government provided during the crisis of 2016 has been critical in getting extra investment into Port Talbot which will secure the works for years to come. However, Tata is a company run from India, and we simply don’t know what the board will decide about its future strategy. They may well be looking for a new joint venture partner, so we’ll have to vigilant about the implications for our local plants.”

“Tata has said it intends to continue with its existing business plan, and honor commitments made to the Trade Unions, so Nia and I will be keeping a close eye to make sure that happens.”

Welsh Government has been in active discussions with Tata steel following the collapse of the merger with Thyssenkrupp. In a written statement and during questions on Wednesday, the Welsh Government committed to invest in Welsh steel to protect its future and is looking at a range of measures to assist on energy costs, business rates and procurement of steel for public sector contracts.

Lee Waters AM said “The Welsh Government have given significant support to the steel industry here but it can’t do everything, and we now need the UK Government to work with them to ensure a future for skilled work in the steel industry in Llanelli and elsewhere in Wales.”

Nia Griffith AM said ““This latest news from Tata means yet more uncertainty for steelworkers. Their announcement about keeping Port Talbot is a start, but now we need real commitment from Tata on Trostre.

“We also need close cooperation from the company with the Trade Unions. Lee Waters AM and I will be urging the UK Government to follow Welsh Government in doing everything possible to secure the future of our steel industry.”

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MP and AM call for Trostre certainty after merger fails

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LOCAL ASSEMBLY MEMBER Lee Waters and Nia Griffith MP have called on the UK Government to work with the Welsh Labour Government to come up with a deal to protect steel making at Trostre, and across Wales and the UK.

Lee Waters AM met with representatives from Tata Steel on Wednesday to discuss the future for steel making at the plant following the reported collapse of the proposed joint venture with Thyssenkrupp.

During the meeting he stressed the need to protect the entire steel supply chain in Wales, including the high quality jobs at Trostre, and those that depend on its presence in Llanelli.

Lee Waters AM said “It’s clear that the support Welsh Government provided during the crisis of 2016 has been critical in getting extra investment into Port Talbot which will secure the works for years to come. However, Tata is a company run from India, and we simply don’t know what the board will decide about its future strategy. They may well be looking for a new joint venture partner, so we’ll have to vigilant about the implications for our local plants.”

“Tata has said it intends to continue with its existing business plan, and honor commitments made to the Trade Unions, so Nia and I will be keeping a close eye to make sure that happens.”

Welsh Government has been in active discussions with Tata steel following the collapse of the merger with Thyssenkrupp. In a written statement and during questions on Wednesday, the Welsh Government committed to invest in Welsh steel to protect its future and is looking at a range of measures to assist on energy costs, business rates and procurement of steel for public sector contracts.

Lee Waters AM said “The Welsh Government have given significant support to the steel industry here but it can’t do everything, and we now need the UK Government to work with them to ensure a future for skilled work in the steel industry in Llanelli and elsewhere in Wales.”

Nia Griffith AM said “This latest news from Tata means yet more uncertainty for steelworkers. Their announcement about keeping Port Talbot is a start, but now we need real commitment from Tata on Trostre.

“We also need close cooperation from the company with the Trade Unions. Lee Waters AM and I will be urging the UK Government to follow Welsh Government in doing everything possible to secure the future of our steel industry.”

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