Saturday, 18 July 2015

Editor, You're A Total Disgrace

Below is a letter published by the Reading Chronicle on 16 July 2015 from my colleague Councillor Tony Page.

Dear Editor, 
I am writing to register a formal complaint about the disgraceful failure of your paper to carry any response from myself or the Borough Council to the singularly biased package of cycling reports in the Chronicle of July 2. 
I understand this was your personal decision to exclude RBC comments. I therefore will afford you the courtesy of offering me a full reply, apology and redress. 
By way of background, I was contacted by Georgina Campbell on the late afternoon of June 30 and spoke on the phone with her for over 20 minutes with her questions focusing primarily on town centre cycling provision. 
At no stage before or during the interview did she mention that you were planning a big feature on ‘Pedal Power’ and at no stage did she say that Mr Wilson MP and others, including the Greens, had attacked the Council on a number of points. 
Deliberately withholding the context in which questions are being asked is unacceptable practice, but one that is common under your stewardship. 
At the end of our conversation Georgina then volunteered the comment that “the Council’s doing more for cycling than I realised”. (Perhaps the good and positive record I had described didn’t chime with your preconceptions, prejudices and general anti-Council agenda?) 
I then discovered, during last Thursday, that you had a “deal” with the Green Party around “exclusivity” of photos and reporting. This was described by Cllr White whilst telling photographer Lynda Bowyer in no uncertain terms that she couldn’t take photos — even though they were all gathered on the public highway and the Greens had been tweeting on social media for hours about the event. 
As the Council is highway and transport authority (and was explicitly and implicitly being criticised in each of four articles across three pages) it must therefore have been your decision to deliberately exclude any of my comments on behalf of the Council. 
Furthermore if you really had wanted a specific response to any of the criticisms there was plenty of time to have rung me on Wednesday morning. This wasn’t a small report tucked away inside, but three full pages of reporting none of which contained any Council response. 
This was premeditated, unprofessional and sloppy journalism the like of which I have never encountered in Reading in all my many decades of dealing with local editors. 
Let me register another very recent example of poor and indeed downright deceitful and shoddy journalism on your watch. In the Chronicle of June 4 I was flabbergasted at the sheer audacity of your reporting about the decision of Network Rail to withdraw the planning application for a replacement footbridge at Reading West station. 
Your reporter, Chris Anderson, was only made aware of the this application when I spoke at the Oxford Road NAG meeting on the evening of May 19, at which he was in attendance. I briefed the audience on our concerns and indicated that strong representations had already been made about the failure to include a passenger lift in the replacement bridge. 
Until that evening neither Chris Anderson nor the Reading Chronicle were even aware of the planning application, and I would have expected the minimal courtesy of some acknowledgement in your initial report of May 28. I had also indicated at the NAG that I would be meeting with Network Rail on May 29, which duly took place. 
At that meeting, Network Rail advised of their decision to withdraw the application which I obviously welcomed following the lengthy email exchanges that had been taking place over a number of weeks. These exchanges also involved very senior Network Rail executives whom I did not mention by name at the meeting. 
The decision to withdraw the application was then made public via a Reading Borough Council press release on June 1 with the agreement of NWR. I think some grudging recognition of my/our role would have been appropriate. 
It’s stretching credulity for the Chronicle to believe that one late front page played any part in Network Rail’s decision! 
Along with the vast majority of Reading they don’t even read the Chronicle.
Lastly, on the subject of training for Planning Committee members, if you are going to make pathetically childish comments in your editorials along the lines of describing me as “that master of poo-pooing” at least do me the courtesy of getting your facts right about the issue of training. 
This has always been offered to all councillors across all committees, not only at the beginning of the municipal year but also with more specialist courses offered throughout the year by the Local Government Association, LGIU, TCPA, and other professional organisations. 
But don’t let the facts stand in the way of your ‘editorials’ any more than looking for balance in your features or accuracy in wider reporting. 
The above examples, from only a few recent weeks, show how much of a disgrace you are to the editorial chair of what was once a good local paper. 
I look forward to receiving a full apology.
Cllr Tony Page 
Deputy Leader, Reading Borough Council, 
Lead member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport

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