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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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New ward extension opens at Werndale Hospital

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WERNDALE Hospital opens its £1millon ward extension, featuring a suite of new spacious patient en-suite rooms and additional light and airy ward space for new nurses’ stations, new technology and medical equipment, in pleasant and comfortable spaces. 

Werndale is part of Circle Health Group, the UK’s largest provider of private healthcare. The group is carrying out a £125 million redevelopment programme across its 50 hospitals in the UK.

Werndale has a strong history in the village of Bancyfelin, where is has been serving the local communities of Wales for over 32 years.

James Davies, Wales and Scarlets rugby player, from Bancyfelin, cut the ribbon to mark the official opening on Monday 1st August. His nickname “Cubby”, is reference to his brother’s nickname, “Fox”; this refers to the Fox & Hounds pub their parents ran in Bancyfelin, the village where they grew up. Staff and consultants were given the chance to view the new extension, with a small gathering to mark the occasion and celebrate all the hard work that has gone into this project over the last 12 months.

Jacky Jones, Executive Director of Werndale Hospital said: “The investment programme is an exciting opportunity to expand what we can offer to patients at Werndale. Our staff and consultants are delighted with this expansion which will allow us to meet the private healthcare needs of patients and families in Wales and will decrease waiting times which will positively impact the patient’s experience. Having the new patient rooms here increases our ward capacity by 20%, it is a great investment”.

Gaynor Llewellyn, Director of Clinical Services said: “At Werndale we are committed to continuous improvement of clinical facilities and services. We continually invest in the hospital so that we can offer our patients and consultants reassurance when they visit us for treatments”.

Werndale Hospital is seeing increased demand for its services across all specialities particularly orthopaedic surgery, ophthalmology, and general surgery. Nearly 4,000 patients had surgery at Werndale Hospital, Bancyfelin during 2021 and the new investment will enable ward capacity to be increased by 25 per cent.

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M4 closed westbound following lorry fire near Swansea

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A SECTION of the M4 near Swansea was shut on Monday (Aug 8) due to a vehicle fire.

The westbound section of the motorway, between junction 47 at Penllergaer and junction 48 at Hendy closed.

Emergency services were called to the scene, and there was queuing traffic in the area.

Traffic monitoring service Inrix reported: “M4 Westbound closed, queueing traffic due to vehicle fire between J47 A48 (Penllergaer / Swansea West Services) and J48 A4138 Pontardulais Road”

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Police appeal after Llanelli assault: victim required hospital treatment

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DYFED POWYS POLICE is investigating an assault which occurred on Regalia Terrace, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire at about 12.05am, Sunday 3rd July.

The victim required hospital treatment.

Officers have carried out all possible lines of enquiry, and are now appealing for help from the public.

They would like to identify the person in the CCTV image, who may have information that could help the investigation.

Anyone who knows who the person is, or if you believe you are pictured, contact Dyfed-Powys Police.

This can also be done either online at: https://bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.police.uk or phoning 101.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

Please quote reference DP-20220703-011

Alternatively, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555111, or visiting crimestoppers-uk.org.

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