Suffolk

Blogger told ‘we are monitoring you for defamation’

For any journalist to get a message from an organisation he or she is writing about saying they monitoring what is written about them for defamation, is an endorsement.

 

It usually means the journalist is getting things right and the organisation has poor media relations advice. And now it has happened to Suffolk “citizen blogger” James Hargrave. He has been writing extensively about Free Schools, some of which he opposes.

 

Today he publishes what he describes as a “curious response” from Graham Watson, director of the Seckford Foundation which is behind several Free School proposals:

 

Dear Mr Hargrave

 

We do not know Margaret Read or what, if any, interest group she represents. She may be, like you, someone who has no locus standi beyond having an interest in the subject of free schools. Please note that we do not intend to engage in any further correspondence with you but will continue to monitor your blog in case you publish any defamatory comments in the future.

 

Should we be approved to pre opening stage you will have an opportunity to raise any points you wish as part of any public consultation process.

 

Yours sincerely

Graham Watson

 

Margaret Mead’s email address seems to have been terminated and a search is now on for her through twitter. To understand this you will need to read Hargave’s blog pot today: Stoke by Nayland Free School: A ‘kick up the backside’ coasting neighbouring schools with inexcusable poor performance.

 

The Seckford Foundation runs the fee-paying Woodbridge School.
 
Later: Mark Valladares has a good post on this on his Liberal Bureaucracy blog

What has happened to the ‘mission to explain’?

While national newspaper continue to seek to be first with the news and on their websites fright over seconds in their live blogs, regional newspapers are loosing their sense of the timeliness of news.

 

Proximity in time as well as location has traditionally been seen as giving events a higher news value. Maybe I am living in the past but I was shocked that two district council meetings in Suffolk which took place last Thursday were not reported in the East Anglian Daily time until today (Monday). The stories have not yet appeared on the website.

 

At the meetings Babergh decided to increase its council tax while Mid Suffolk froze its demand (see Suffolk Wordblog). Those seem to me to be stories of immediate interest to the readers.

 

But what concerns me more is the lack of explanation of the reasons for the different decisions. Local government finance is always difficult to understand but it has a real impact on people.

 

It is back in the 1970s that John Birt, then head of current affairs at London Weekend, and Peter Jay, a Times journalist at the time, coined the phrase “mission to explain”. An article in the Times began:

There is a bias in television journalism. Not against any particular party or point of view — it is a bias against understanding.

Appearing under John Birt’s name it was naturally about television but the point was not lost on print journalists.

 

This brings us to council tax setting this year. The Government has offered a one-off grant worth the equivalent of a 2.5 per cent rise, to councils that freeze or reduce the tax.

 

It seems like a no-brainer to accept. But that is not how all councils see it. Nor are the decision being taken entirely based on politics. Conservative controlled Chelmsford council in Essex has voted to reject the offer while Labour controlled Ipswich is set to accept it (Ipswich Spy).

 

The problem is that it is a one-off grant, which means that a 2.5 per cent rise next year would be standing still, just making up for not having the extra grant. To get a real increase of that size next year, a 5 per cent hike would be needed.

 

And the water is muddied further by a Government  requirment for a local referendum which would be costly and difficult to organise if the rise is more than 3.5 per cent this year. (Decisions on the trigger for future years will be decided nearer the time.)

 

Yes, it is a bit difficult to follow and I hope I have got it right (corrections and clarifications welcomed in the comments below). And when it comes to police authorities the trigger level is 4 per cent which explains why the Suffolk Police Authority can increase its demand by 3.75 per cent.

 

Suffolk’s chief constable, Simon Ash, explained that “if council tax were frozen in 2012/13, it would result in the loss of at least £1.6 million in funding in subsequent years because the government grant would be a one-off payment”.

 

That, in essence, is the dilemma facing all councils. I would hope that there are journalists out there who will make it more lucid than I can, but there is no excuse for not attempting to explain.

The shortage of bloggers in the east

I am with Ipswich Spy in their analysis of of political blogging.  Primarily, they are talking about Ipswich but do expand into the wider country.

As they say: “Locally, Councillor 2.0 as a concept has been completely ignored.” And this, at a time when the blogosphere is full of talk of Web 3.0.

I suspect Ipswich Spy was prompted to write on this subject by Alasdair Ross’s post about Ben Gummer’s website and the Conservative and Lib Dem websites in Ipswich. He, naturally, thinks the Labour website is good, which it is by comparison.

One of the county councillor blogs mentioned by Ipswich Spy is that of Jane Storey, which I have been put off because of my irrational dislike of rottweilers (that is not a personal allusion to the councillor who struck me as rather mild when I heard her at the council). It is a pity that her blog looks as if it has been taken over by Russian spammers who have placed links to sites selling fake Gucci handbags.

Like Ipswich Spy, I want to see more blogging in Suffolk. For a start it makes blogging easier, because the more people involved in the conversation, the more lively and productive it becomes.

Wordblog has been live again for about a month and I am still finding other bloggers in the area, but it proving much harder work than writing about the media and interacting with other media bloggers.

So we need more and better bloggers in Suffolk. I wonder if the county council would give me a grant to run seminars on blogging: if is important in developing communities. Seriously, I am willing to talk to anyone of any political colour about blogging.

* Note to Jane Storey: I think your spam problem would be solved by moving to WordPress.com or Blogger.com. I would choose WordPress.

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