The local press

PUBLISHED: 10:40 03 December 2009 | UPDATED: 14:44 06 May 2010

SIR – Some observations regarding your collection of testimonials to the value of regional titles like the Herts Advertiser, in the November 19 edition. Firstly, Monbiot s charge was twofold, namely that local papers exist to amplify the voices of their p

SIR - Some observations regarding your collection of testimonials to the value of regional titles like the Herts Advertiser, in the November 19 edition.

Firstly, Monbiot's charge was twofold, namely that local papers exist to amplify the voices of their proprietors and advertisers and other powerful people with whom they wish to stay on good terms, and more particularly that they contribute to the entrenched power of local elites.

Monbiot wrote: "Yes, we need a press that speaks truth to power, that gives voice to the powerless and fights for local democracy" and he cited two local papers "that consistently hold power to account". In contrast, the Herts Advertiser asserts "...George Monbiot made a sweeping attack on all local newspapers" - not quite correct - "for failing in their duty of giving voice to the powerless and fighting for grass roots democracy" -a gain, not quite correct!

Contributor Ms. Vanessa Gregory employs a modal verb, indicating what is required of "quality local newspapers". She alluded to the objectives of the Herts Advertiser, but without searching for former editor Noel Cantillon's valedictory editorial, I cannot know whether "that baton has been taken up by the current editor", or not. Perhaps the Herts Advertiser should print its objectives, prominently, in each edition.

Anne Main MP claims to value the "strong independent voice" of local newspapers without offering any evidence that a strong independent voice is, in fact, what we get. At least George Monbiot cites the research of Roy Greenslade and Nick Davies for his assertions.

Who are the "members of the community" the Herts Advertiser has selected to voice their support? Testimonials come from Ms Main, MP, Mayor Cllr Oxley, Cllr Mills and a wannabe parliamentarian Walkington; if I remember rightly Ms Gregory is associated with the St Albans Civic Society [see photo page 3], or at least writes to the Herts Advertiser in a manner consistent with it. I question the representativeness of your panel.

Monbiot's phrase, "entrenched power of local elites" seems to be the crux of his criticisms. Just who constitutes a local elite will by definition be different from region to region. In that context, each local paper (or group of titles) may have its own leviathan to contend with in order to foster and preserve local democracy. St Albans and Hertfordshire are spectacularly hooked into London issues. I note in two pages devoted to "Train chaos" (pp 28/9), it is all commuters' gripes; the ongoing rail freight depot saga is about a depot to service north London; and perennially housing (accommodating, in many cases, workers out of London?).

News item page 18, "Housing demands are 'unrealistic and impractical'" - East of England Regional Assembly's Plan for additional housing - the story follows a predictable pattern.

Without doubt, the Herts Advertiser takes a vigorous editorial position, and as testified the letters pages do offer a forum. However, that does not nullify George Monbiot's criticisms.

Sadly in the UK (and elsewhere), local democracy is submerged into systematic political dysfunction. Notwithstanding Anne Main and Co, the Herts Advertiser does not provide a thorough and penetrating analysis.

The Herts Advertiser carps at the county council, the district council and miscreants from the "political class" (e.g. local MPs accused of abusing expenses) intermittently, except in the case of the EERA, where the Herts Advertiser carps consistently. What is lacking is an exposé of an overall dearth of democracy - local, and otherwise! Indeed, possibly excepting Ms Gregory, each of your boosters is a fully paid-up subscriber to the System! And Ms Gregory's comments were expressed wishfully.

Whatever they say, Anne Main, Cllr Oxley, Cllr Mills, and Mr Walkington represent the 'power' George Monbiot wishes local newspapers would speak truth to.

KENNETH Dorman

Upper Culver Road, St Albans


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