Row erupts between weekly and council-run paper over Olympic planning coverage

A row has broken out after weekly newspaper, News Shopper, accused its local authority, Greenwich Council, of publishing “pro-council nonsense” it its freesheet.

The News Shopper, owned and published by Newsquest, took issue with the council-run Greenwich Time over the latter’s coverage of a controversial Olympic planning meeting which it claimed failed to realistically depict the contentious debate.

The commercial weekly ran a lengthy article comparing its coverage of the meeting, called to discuss plans to hold equestrian events for the 2012 games on Greenwich Park, with coverage of the same event run in the council-run paper.

It wrote: ‘Greenwich Time clearly does not play by the same rules.

‘Its report never mentioned the protests, the heated exchanges, the petition, the unprecedented length of the meeting, the threats of legal action and the animosity displayed by some to Lord Coe.

‘In fact, it was a strong contender for the most craven, simpering piece of pro-council nonsense ever to appear in its pages.

‘To read Peter Cordwell’s report you would think the decision was taken with no opposition in a room full of assenting voices. That’s just not true.”

The News Shopper claimed the GT article made no mention of a 13,500-signature petition against the plan and that the meeting took five hours to complete. The NS said its article did not gloss over the protests, giving them due coverage: ‘It had to. News Shopper is a fair newspaper, duty bound to present facts in the correct context and with no bias.”

Richard Firth, NS editor, told Holdthefrontpage: “Obviously, we’re opposed to Greenwich Time period. We don’t think it’s fair. It struck us that what they were doing [with this story] was an absolute disgrace.”

A Greenwich Council spokesman then told the News Shopper:

‘Greenwich Council supports a vibrant local press, playing a vital role in scrutinising the council.

‘Greenwich Time (GT) has a different but equally important function – telling residents about the 800 services we offer…

‘News Shopper has raised criticisms on the GT report on the 2012 equestrian events application at the council’s planning board.

‘Far from all the attendees being against the application, many spoke out in favour of the plans, or cheered other speakers such as Lord Coe.

‘You [NS] claim that of the 30 speakers at the meeting ‘most of them were opposed to this plan.’In truth, there were 17 speakers in favour of the plans and 17 against.

‘We welcome all form of legitimate criticism. However, we do not apologise for producing a weekly publication which gives local people access to jobs, homes, services and celebrates good news to all parts of the borough.”

The spat then took on an extra dimension with Media Guardian blogger Roy Greenslade rounding on the News Shopper: He said: ‘In its desire to put Time to the sword, overlooks its own journalistic failings.”

He added: ‘At first sight, I thought I had come across a fine example of the difference between the (good) editorial content of a commercial local newspaper and the (bad) content of a council-run rival newspaper.

‘But, on closer inspection, the “independent” commercial paper’s outrage about the faults of its local authority competitor slyly conceals its own journalistic flaws.”

Greenslade noted that the print headline to its story stated: “Advocates of Olympic horse show hounded out at debate” but said it was not justified as there was no evidence of advocates being “hounded out”.

In addition, he points out that:

‘Though the Shopper story mentioned “threats of legal action” it did not report on the flaring of tempers or even that the debate was heated. Indeed, it spoke of both sides of the debate being heard, suggesting that it had been an orderly discussion.”

(Links to all the necessary stories can be found here)

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