Carmarthenshire council and South Wales Guardian's war of words

Front page of the South Wales Guardian
Image caption The front page of the South Wales Guardian this week

A war of words has broken out between a local newspaper and a county council over claims the authority has blacklisted the weekly publication.

The editor of the South Wales Guardian claims Carmarthenshire council withdrew advertising from its pages after it criticised the authority.

Local AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas has also accused the authority of "censorship".

But the council has strongly refuted the claims saying the decision was a commercial one.

Mike Lewis, who has been editor at the Ammanford-based paper since March 2007, said the weekly Guardian is a "fiesty red top" which "tells it as it is".

But he claims the council, which has advertised in the paper since the authority's formation in the 1990s, took exception to a comment piece it ran in the 19 September edition.

The editorial criticised the council over a row about plans for a Sainsbury's supermarket in Ammanford.

"From that day onwards the amount of advertisements [placed by the council] has been negligible," Mr Lewis added.

Council figures show that during eight weeks between 27 September and 21 November, the authority spent £9,551.69 in the county's three newspapers.

But, according to the paper, the figures show that just £224.99 or 2.3% was spent on adverts in the Guardian.

Mr Lewis said that from January until September the council had spent about £37,000 on adverts in the Guardian.

Mr Lewis said: "The council have come back to me and said that the decisions over advertisements are commercial but my response to that is the county council by some coincidence decided it's not worth advertising with us in the very week we run the critical editorial."

The recent Leveson report into media standards noted the difficulties faced by local newspapers due to declining advertising revenue.

Mr Lewis added that if the lack of council advertisements continued, the future of the Guardian would be under threat.

'Taxpayers' money'

But Carmarthenshire council said it was "astonished" to read "so many incorrect statements" on the front page of this week's Guardian, which gives details of what it calls a "council advertising blackout".

"There is no obligation on the county council to advertise in any particular newspaper," the authority said in a long statement.

"Decisions on advertising are commercial and are taken based on the most effective and appropriate use of resources.

"When placing advertising we need to find the best value for money.

"We cannot simply spend taxpayers' money with local newspapers to subsidise them and support their running costs. That would be a misuse of our funds."

It said that surveys it had carried out showed the Guardian is the least widely read of the three local newspapers in the county.

"Maybe the Guardian's energy would be better spent on trying to increase its readership rather than demanding that the county council advertises with the newspaper as if there were some entitlement to be subsidised with public money," the authority said.

"It is true that, over the years, some of the editorial coverage in the Guardian has seemed to us to be biased and unbalanced.

"We are surprised that the newspaper has singled out a recent article as if it were an isolated incident.

"The truth is that this was but the latest in a long line of articles which we would feel did not present a full and honest picture."

'Live in fear'

Plaid Cymru's Rhodri Glyn Thomas, the assembly member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, said it was essential for councils to support their local papers.

He said they should not have to "live in fear" that advertising will be withdrawn if they "write a story that's not praising the authority".

"Local papers are very important, not only for people to be aware of what's happening in their area, but also they're a very important vehicle for public debate," he said.

"There should be no censorship whatsoever. It's not good for democracy.

"Local papers should be in a position to scrutinise local authorities and question what's going on."

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