Friday, 27 March 2009

Local Communities And The Media

With the ongoing questions about the future of the media and the threat to local democracy this poses making it onto serious television where even commentators of dubious reputation start speaking sense, it is timely that Reading Chronicle rediscovers the lost journalistic art of investigation.

Over 30 councils already provide a webcast of their public sessions, illuminating the sometimes derisory state of actual debate among our elected representatives. The costs for set-up and operation vary from £14,000 to £25,000 annually, according to the report.

There appears to be universal support from residents, commentators, activists and politicians to encourage wider engagement in the political processes which decide the pattern of local life on everything from the state of rubbish collections through to funding for often invisible services like social support and care of the needy.

Basingstoke & Deane council IT manager Geraint Davies said that their experiments were considered a definite success after attendance at meetings jumped by 500% as people gained familiarity with previously misunderstood practices.

Community activist Colin Lee said "democracy needs to be transparent... anything which puts the activities of the council into the public domain has to be a good thing."

Opposition leaders offered their backing with the suggestion that greater knowledge of the behaviour of representative may change voting tendencies, while RBC Council leader, Labour's Cllr Jo Lovelock explained that openness is always beneficial.

All sides stressed the importance that costs needed to be controlled in order to ensure value for money on any service is provided.

Conservative MP for Reading East, Rob Wilson has also been making a lot of noise recently on the issue.

Mr Wilson criticised Labour for restricting openness over the implementation of the cross-party Sustainable Communities Act 2007, as Hazel Blears' Communities Ministry responded to a white paper consultation.

The main planks of the SCA revolve around the 'Communities In Control' white paper, which was discussed at length on the Liberal Conspiracy website (Ch1: Is the community empowerment plan any good?, Ch2: Can British citizens become active?, Ch3: Access to information, Ch4: Are petitions the way forward?, Ch5: Toying with elected mayors, Ch6: How to complain to councils, Ch7: Why don't more people get into politics?, Ch8: Can community assets work?).

Mr Wilson also spoke in a commons debate, arguing that funds used to pay for in-house publications (such as the recently axed Reading LIVE magazine) would be better spent subsidising local publishers and that this could be done "without compromising political balance and neutrality"

Oranjepan asks:
Finally we may be moving in a positive direction, but surely political balance and neutrality are different things - would the independence of the press be defended under any such moves?


  1. The main planks of the Sustainable Communities Act do NOT revolve around the government's Communities in Control White Paper. The Act was written by the Local Works coalition and it only became law of the 5 year campaign of that coalition. It is far more radical regarding empowerment than anything on the table from government. For more info go to

    Steve Shaw
    Local Works National Co-ordinator

  2. Thanks for the link - that's fascinating. You're right, the SCA is much more far-reaching and I like it better the more I read.
    I notice Reading isn't supporting it... will have to do something about that...


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