Andrew Gilligan

Andrew Gilligan: Local News – The “Greenwich Time” Way

April 28, 2010 by  

THE DAY that Greenwich Council’s propaganda newspaper, Greenwich Time, announced the BRILLIANT news that this is to become a royal borough, it seemed only right to put a picture of the monarch on the front page.

No, silly, not that absurd interloper, the Queen. She was rightly relegated to page 3. Page 1 was reserved for the traditional anvil-jawed photo of our very own age-old symbol of pomp and majesty, council leader Chris Roberts. “Residents, businesses and the millions of visitors to Greenwich will share in our delight at this wonderful news,” said King Chris (note the use of the royal we.) That issue was billed as a “souvenir edition.” But for Mr Roberts, every edition of Greenwich Time is a souvenir!

Inspired by a discussion this week on greenwich.co.uk, I went through some recent back numbers of South London’s very own Court Circular, to see just how many times Mr Roberts and his Labour chums have been puffing themselves at our expense. And the results from the international jury are now in.

Total number of mentions of Labour politicians: 98.
Total number of mentions of non-Labour politicians: 0.
Total number of pictures of Labour politicians: 29.
Total number of pictures of non-Labour politicians: 0.

Mr Roberts, by the way, features on the front page in 8 out of the 12 issues I examined, often with a picture. And when, by some terrible oversight, he is left out of the front-page story, he nearly always gets a column and picture inside (“I was surprised to be told today that I will receive an award as the Greenest Leader in South London…”)

Other very special Greenwich Time stars include Greenwich West’s own Maureen O’Mara – who must, on this tally, be a bit worried about holding her seat – and John Fahy, never pictured without a shovel in his hand. And we mustn’t forget Nick Raynsford MP. He might be hard to find on the streets of Greenwich, but he makes up for it in Greenwich Time. Lib Dems? Tories? Greens? You what?

There isn’t space here for a full list of all the Pravda-esque inanities of “the newspaper campaigning for a greater Greenwich,” but the one that made me laugh the loudest was the fearless scrutiny by one Nick Day of the council’s response to this winter’s snow.

“The extended spell of severe weather must have been testing the council’s resources to breaking point,” wrote Mr Day. “I’ve been frankly amazed at the impressive response…I’ve often been quick to hold the council to account, so I must be equally quick to praise the grit (sorry!) and determination that officers and workers have been applying to their immense task.”

You certainly should be sorry, Nick. Actually, I seem to remember that there was relatively little snow in south-east London by comparison with the rest of the country, and what there was was not cleared conspicuously effectively in Greenwich.

Some stories have been so good that Greenwich Time did them twice – like the one on falling bus crime and burglary figures, front-paged on both the 5th and 19th January (“Making you much SAFER”) and based on a possibly dodgy comparison. The shortage of space created by the repetition of such stories was no doubt why other news – like the excoriation of Greenwich’s social services as “shocking,” “arrogant” and “very poor” by a High Court judge – never made it into Greenwich Time.

My tally of councillor and MP mentions, by the way, covers less than three months’ worth of Greenwich Time, between 5 Jan and 23 March. Some vestigial respect for democratic decencies (or more likely the fear of court action for breaking electoral law) has kept the politicians out of the paper over the last month.

But, even during the election campaign, Greenwich Time has found a sneaky way to push the Labour message. The front page of the April 13 edition (“Spring in our step… Local businesses crack on despite the credit crunch”) told everyone that the “green shoots” of recovery were back: “Confidence [in Greenwich businesses] is growing by the day… There is a realisation that they have survived the abyss… Some businesses have sadly disappeared, but far fewer than may have been feared,” wrote the chair of the local chamber of commerce.

In the 1950s, as part of some dastardly imperial plot against the French, civil servants of the Colonial Office successfully persuaded the people of the Pacific island of Tanna to worship Prince Philip as a god. Portraits of the deity still hang in many a grass hut. Mr Roberts is clearly trying the same trick with what he believes to be the simple, credulous people of Greenwich. In me and others, the sheer clumsiness of the operation has had the opposite effect – making me automatically mistrust everything the council does, even if it is worthwhile.

The Tories are promising, if elected to the council, to close down Greenwich Time, which sounds like a good idea. This ridiculous apology for a newspaper has become the prime symbol of a council that treats its citizens like idiots.

Comments

10 Responses to “Andrew Gilligan: Local News – The “Greenwich Time” Way”

  1. Indigo on April 28th, 2010 12:22 pm

    The local chamber of commerce is now linked up to the same intravenous drip (AEG, ODA) as the Council: freebies (shows at the O2, trips overseas, office facilities).

    When I saw the picture of chamber of commerce board members in the 13 April GT, I remembered the last real businessman who ran the chamber – John Furlonger – who knew that the real interests of the Council and the chamber are often in conflict, and that if the chamber got into bed with the Council it would get out with a nasty infection. As soon as people seconded from the Council got into the chamber they set up things like minicab accounts (so they didn’t have to take the bus home with the rest of the hoi polloi), engaged a local beauty queen as “development coordinator” (and then made her life miserable), laughed at accountability about grants from the LDA and within months bled the chamber dry. Oh yes, and got rid of the people who, having run their own trades for years and years, actually knew what businesses need.

  2. Damian on April 29th, 2010 2:40 am

    Oooh, glad I proved inspirational!

    First thing’s first: I’m NOT sticking up for GT. It’s nowhere near perfect. I’m just trying to add some balance and perspective to your article. (After all, you seem hungry for balance!) If this discussion is anything to go by, I’m the only person who doesn’t seem to mind the GT. And despite it apparently being some sort of evil Labour propaganda, it has had no effect on me in that respect: I’m currently undecided as to how I will vote.

    The discussion that prompted this article has actually (eventually) been positive and productive. I was alarmed at the strong anti GT feelings. It seems a bizarre thing for a KEY policy. The paper definitely needs changes, no denying that, but scrapping it seems a bit extreme. I suggested it had its uses. However I’ve still not found out what the Tories plan to replace GT with, if anything.

    Q1. What would you replace it with, if anything?

    It’s a council paper, so obviously there will be reports featuring council members. And obviously it’s going to be promotional. (Next you’ll be attacking film posters for only showing positive reviews!) Personally, I think it’s more of a concern when a news item sneaks in (eg. an attack). I’d increase the letters page. And lose the TV guide!

    Q2. Would you get less annoyed about it if it wasn’t called a ‘newspaper’? Maybe A4 size too?

    Your main complaint seems to be about the fact that it hasn’t featured any non-Labour councillors in the last 2 or 3 months.
    Greenwich has 51 councillors, 14 of which are non-Labour.
    Here are their names, seeing as they never get printed!
    Geoffrey Brighty
    Mandy Brinkhurst
    Graeme Coombes
    Spencer Drury
    Nigel Fletcher
    Eileen Glover
    John Hills
    Andy Jennings
    Peter King
    Dermot Poston
    Chris Taylor
    Brian Woodcraft
    Paul Webbewood
    Alexander Wilson

    Not really sure what to make of your figures though.

    For instance, our MP, the mayor, deputy mayor and, yes, the council leader by their very roles are more likely to appear in photos anyway. So I personally think you should discount them to make the figures more fair. But that’s just my opinion!

    Also… from your figures, we could, for instance, question why the non-Labour councillors haven’t been planting any trees! Or wondering if they are camera shy!

    Q3. If GT promised to feature the 14 non-Labour councillors every now and then, would it make you happier?

    I’m trying to keep this discussion light-hearted and positive. I’m frankly shocked at how worked up some people are getting on this subject.

  3. Andrew Gilligan on April 29th, 2010 12:06 pm

    Damian,

    I have no objection to Labour Party propaganda. I just think it should be paid for by the Labour Party, not the council tax.

  4. Damian on April 29th, 2010 1:30 pm

    Andrew

    As it’s the election coming up, I’m sure the Tories have posted leaflets through your letterbox… whereas Labour have ‘shoved propaganda through your door’, right?

    I love your writing usually, but I find the continued use of the word propaganda tiresome sorry. What about ‘publicity material’?

    Council produced material that promotes the council (irrespective of its political make up) and the borough… A newsletter that reports on positive things happening around here… Advertising of available council housing and council jobs… Surely those aspects are ok to be (part) funded by council tax, aren’t they?

    I think it is fascinating that this paper can enrage people. You’d think from the sounds of it, some people are made physically sick by a photo of a tree planting if a Labour councillor is in the photo too! This happens in every single council you realise. Trees get planted. Hands get shaken. Photos get taken and published in council publications ‘bigging up’ the positive aspects of the borough, irrespective of how badly they are doing elsewhere. There’s nothing sinister afoot.

    You do realise if the Tories get in and scrap it, they will still have to promote themselves SOMEHOW. They will still have to be photographed grinning like a goon planting a tree whilst somewhere else in the borough, a small forest is being felled to make way for a Starbucks!

    I think I made some fair comments that you haven’t addressed yet.
    Do you think that GT fulfils ANY genuine purpose to the area?
    What would you replace it with, if anything?
    Would it be more acceptable:
    if it wasn’t called a ‘newspaper’?
    if it wasn’t printed like a newspaper?
    if it featured the 14 non-Labour councillors every now and then?
    if it featured negative stuff too?

    Thanks

  5. Russell on April 29th, 2010 2:26 pm

    ‘Choice-based lettings’ (AKA available social housing) can be made available via simple printed material (which can be picked up from libraries etc) and the council’s (and local housing association) websites. It doesn’t need something like GT.

    This works well for many other councils.

    Yes, a small forest has to be cut down to make sure we get GT.

  6. Andrew Gilligan on April 30th, 2010 2:08 am

    The Collins dictionary defines “propaganda” as “the organised dissemination of information… to assist the cause of a government or movement.”

    Greenwich Time fits this definition perfectly.

    Most councils publish occasional newsletters to inform people of new services, how to contact their councillor, and so on, and I have no objection to that, although as more people get the web it will become less and less necessary.

    But GT is a very different beast. It is one of only two weekly council publications in the 32 London boroughs. It takes a significantly more propagandist tone than nearly all of the other publications, as shown in the gritting piece I quote above. It looks to the casual reader like a “proper” newspaper and does not make its official status sufficiently clear. And it contains significant non-council content (TV listings, restaurant reviews, sport) in a clear attempt to damage the local independent press. So no, it cannot be allowed to survive in its current form, or anything like it.

  7. Damian on April 30th, 2010 8:58 am

    You chose the word ‘propaganda’ as you feel it promotes the Labour party. And I am suggesting it promotes GREENWICH and the COUNCIL (many of which are Labour, but that is irrelevant). If it featured the 14 non-Labour councillors now and then, would you still be attacking it?

    And now you also say GT is “a clear attempt to damage the local independent press”.

    You genuinely believe people have stopped buying The News Shopper and the Mercury because they receive GT?! Can you back that up? THAT might be a story (though you would have to take into account the free Standards that carpet our trains and the fact that they both have all their content for free online).

    The gritting letter is another non-event that is really not worth you getting stressed over. (Are you accusing a letter writer of propaganda too? Really?) Why not pick out the letter (Jan 26) complaining, like you did, about Chris Roberts’ photo on the ‘souvenir issue’? (To me, that cover was a giggle. Wonder if anyone still cherishes that souvenir!) Another unhappy letter about the subject appeared 2 weeks later.

    I’d love to see a bigger letters page with more angry letters and the council’s response. If they couldn’t fill the page, they should get out on the streets and interview people on what they have issues with.

    Now if you had proof that they were ghost writing their own praise and binning all the angry letters, THAT would be a story.

    But for now, this is a non-story. In fact, it just seems like mindless pro-Tory propaganda.

  8. Pedro on May 5th, 2010 10:56 am

    It’s propaganda – anyone who saw the issue after the confirmation of the Olympics (which, personally, I’m in favour of) would have been disgusted by the way it completely ignored the controversy around the event.

    I’m a labour voter , but this kind of rubbish demeans the party. If it disappeared, no-one would miss it, in exactly the same way as no-one missed Ken’s propaganda sheet. It’s a huge waste of resources – and trees.

  9. Barbara Bayne on May 16th, 2010 12:52 am

    I find GT very useful – I’m always looking for papers for the litter tray, & they make a great mulch – for supressing those annoying weeds – makes me smile every time I manage to get Mr Roberts face as a potential target for the cats!

  10. Welcome to Pyongyang-on-Thames, the model Tory council « Guy Debord's Cat on November 5th, 2010 2:45 pm

    [...] the only two weekly ones, the execrable East End Life (Tower Hamlets) and Greenwich’s laughable Greenwich Time – are run by Labour-controlled boroughs. Time for Labour, too, to get the message: in an era of [...]