IS THIS PRESS CENSORSHIP BY STEALTH? WHAT ELSE IS BEING WITHHELD FROM US?
Advertising in the Observer approved by local management
At the last minute Head Office lawyers ban the ad
Approval of ad by Electoral Commission ignored
No satisfactory explanation supplied by lawyers
What else has been concealed from the public like this?
The above two full page adverts were booked to appear in the Bognor Regis Observer
on Thursday 30th April, to coincide with the distribution of similar leaflets in
connection with the election.
They had been checked for legality by the Electoral Commission, and approved in writing.
The local management of the newspaper did not have any objection to publishing them.
However, on 27th April, four days before publication and on the final copy deadline
day, the Newspaper group's head office issued instructions that they were not to
be publlshed due, their lawyers claimed, to conflict with sectiion 75 of the Representation
of the People Act. Their view was that as the adverts were not submitted or paid
for by a candidate, they breached the Act. It was too late to dispute the issue
or make any changes, so the adverts did not appear.
"This was nonsense," said Hugh Coster of the Bognor Regis Residents Association,
who devised and booked the adverts, "because the Electoral Commission had approved
and confirmed that we are perfectly legal 'third party campaigners', and absolutely
entitled to issue leaflets, adverts and information in connection with the election,
within certain financial limits.
"This is not the fault of the local management of the Observer and I have no quarrel
with them at all," Mr. Coster continued, "but for the Head Office to issue such instructions
at the last minute and with no legitimate grounds, smacks of back-door censorship,
and there can be no real reason for this other than politics. I have asked for an
explanation and an apology, but none has been forthcoming so far."
INFLUENCE THE ELECTION
NewsBognor has noted that the Observer's Head Office is not the only voice that seems
to consider the election to be the private domain of the Conservative Party. Gillian
Brown, Leader of the Conservative group at Arun District Council and who hopes for
re-election, was quoted in the Bognor Observer as stating that Mr Coster was "attempting
to influence the election."
"Too right I am," responded Mr. Coster, "just the same as Mrs. Brown, the Conservative
Association and all the other candidates and their helpers are attempting to influence
it. And she knows perfectly well that I'm entitled to do this, and is simply displaying
her fear that her arrogance in ignoring the people of Bognor Regis might be coming
home to roost. She's already had a vote of no confidence passed against her, hopefully
the voters in her ward will do the same on Thursday."
WHAT ELSE IS BEING QUIETLY COVERED UP?
However, Mr. Coster's major concern is that this has revealed how easily anything
in the media can be suppressed without the public knowing anything about it. "Whistleblowers
are rare," he said, "and unless there is someone within the organisation ready to
stick his neck out, nobody would ever know when or how often information is concealed
from the public view by instructions from back offices. This is a serious matter
when so many of us are reliant on the media as watchdogs. What good is a watchdog
if it is muzzled and silenced?"
One thing is for sure. Silencing the truth will never happen at NewsBognor.