Prestwich Advertiser to cease publication

From The Manchester Evening News website:

Next week’s edition of the Prestwich Advertiser will be the last time that the newspaper is published.

The newspaper’s owners, MEN Media, has had to take the difficult decision to cease publication due to rising production costs and the challenging economy, both of which have made the Advertiser no longer commercially viable.

MEN Media managing director Steve Anderson-Dixon said: “We would like to thank our readers and advertisers for their support over the years and hope they understand that this was a very tough decision to make.

“As a multimedia company our commitment to offering the best coverage of events in Prestwich and surrounding areas will continue unabated.

“The Manchester Evening News brings you news, features and sport from the area six days a week.

“And there is extensive coverage on our website which has the largest audience of any regional newspaper website in the country.”

I admit to being saddened and baffled by this decision from MEN Media (which was bought by Trinity Mirror in February 2010). It seems obvious that Trinity Mirror only wanted the flagship paper, The Manchester Evening News, and after paying almost £45m in the deal, perhaps they consider free local papers to be nothing more than a diversion.

I fear for the other local papers across Greater Manchester yet to be axed – I think it is only a matter of time.

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The BBC gets it wrong – Salford Quays has not changed its name

I was dismayed to read the story linked here on the BBC’s website this morning which states in its third paragraph:

“Since 2000, much has changed on the Quays – not least the name, which has dropped the word Salford…”

This is simply not true. Most of the people I know who live in Salford Quays are proud to say they are from Salford.

Sorry BBC, you’ve got this one wrong.

Posted in Media, Ordsall, Salford | 1 Comment

Child detention in the press – Misleading news report

You may have seen or heard misleading news reports today suggesting that the UK Border Agency is breaking its pledge to end the detention of children.

UKBA has responsed to these misleading news reports and has emphasised the need to hold families at the border, while making clear the bold changes the agency has made to the way families already in the UK are managed and supported.

Brodie Clark, head of border force, said: ‘We have always been clear that we may need to hold some families at the border while enquiries are made to decide whether they can be admitted to the country or until the next available return flight if they are refused entry.

‘In the case of unaccompanied children, we may need to hold them until alternative accommodation is arranged, usually through social services. The number of passengers held is very small compared to the millions that we process and tens of thousands we refuse entry to at the border each year and it is always for the shortest possible period.

‘Not doing so would weaken border security by allowing people into the country who have no right to be here, and, equally, to release unaccompanied children before social workers have arrived to support them would put them at great risk.’

For those families already in the UK, but with no legal right to stay, the agency has introduced a completely new process for managing their return which encourages them to leave voluntarily, sometimes with financial assistance.

In cases, where return needs to be enforced, a new type of accommodation, Cedars, is used to hold families for a short period immediately prior to their departure from the UK.

Cedars has a completely different look and feel to an immigration removal centre and is only being used as a last resort. Families are referred there only after advice has been sought from the independent family returns panel which ensures that the welfare of the children is taken into account.

So far, fewer than ten families have been returned following a short period of stay in Cedars.

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RIP: A free and fair local press

I’ve always stood up for free, fair and unbiased reporting as I believe it’s one of the things that makes this country great. To stand up and speak the truth is, I think, a universal right. The Egyptian people are struggling with this same problem as we speak, their media’s right to free speech was quashed yesterday when the popular news network Al Jazeera was banned from broadcast.

So it with disdain that I read in our local paper, The Salford Advertiser, the week before last about how the Langworthy ward contained the most benefit claimants compared to the rest of Salford. Whilst this snippet of information is true, the article written by Salford Advertiser reporter Denise Evans was slanted (along with unhelpful comments from Langworthy Labour ward Councillor John Warmisham) to suggest that because Langworthy had the highest number of benefit claimants, they therefore must all be benefit cheats.

The Langworthy article was poorly constructed to sensationalise a statistic that exists purely because of the geographical and diverse community that we have in Langworthy, compared to say Worsley and Boothstown (which the article helpfully points out has the lowest benefit claimants).

My letter, which was published in last week’s Salford Advertiser readers viewpoints page, addressed some of the problems with the assumptions in the original article and I won’t repeat those words here.

Manchester Evening News

It was doubly disappointing to therefore read a Manchester Evening News article written by respected MEN reporter Pamela Welsh (see here), which is basically a government-bashing piece that shows the MEN is decidedly biased in it’s reporting.

To openly support an anti-government petition is surely beyond the remit of The Manchester Evening News – this goes beyond mere news reporting and comment; it is making the news itself.

Pamela Welsh and The Manchester Evening News should withdraw “support” for this petition and merely report on it. If they do not, I cannot take anything they write as the truth, but merely the opinion of an anti-community and anti-government mouthpiece.

Salford and Manchester’s free and fair local paper has died. RIP.

This blog post featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Posted in Langworthy, Media | 16 Comments

The Hazel Blears Column (Salford Advertiser)

Residents who have received their copy of this week’s Salford Advertiser will have noticed Labour Salford MP Hazel Blears has a new monthly column. I agree with Conservative Councillor Iain Lindley and Lib Dem Group Leader Councillor Norman Owen’s views that the timing of this column sets alarm bells ringing.

Why now – as Iain Lindley writes – after 12 years as an MP, has she decided to suddenly write a regular column for the Advertiser. Is it perhaps because a general election that Labour will most likely get slaughtered in, is no more than 6 months away?

I now learn that Worsley MP Barbara Keeley will soon be writing her own column in the Advertiser and I can only assume that Eccles MP Ian Stewart will follow soon after.

This is a blatant political shift for MEN Media – completely unbalancing the precarious political coverage, which up to now has allowed all sides a fair and even chance to have their viewpoints published.

The editor of the Salford Advertiser, Simon Keegan, further confirms that once the general election has been called, the MPs and leader’s columns will be removed from publication until after the result.

What this means for you, the ordinary reader, is that from now until the election you will be subjected to Labour spin x 4 (three Labour MPs writing consecutively plus the Labour leader’s column) with a Liberal Democrat and Tory leader’s column only printed once in every 3 weeks.

By my calculation, that makes the Advertiser biased towards Labour in the run up to both the local and general elections on 2010.

If MEN Media plans to support Labour in the run up to the next election, it should be up front and honest with it’s readers right now – many tabloid daily papers declare their allegiances (and sometimes shift them). The Advertiser’s editorial staff should set the record straight NOW and let us, the readers, know where they stand.

Posted in Media, Salford | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Are you ready for the Digital TV switchover?

In roughly a month’s time (4th November 2009 to be exact), our local TV transmitter which serves Salford and the North West, will begin the digital switchover.

What does this mean for you?

Well, it depends how you currently receive your television. If you are a cable or satellite tv customer (and don’t receive your channels via any other method throughout your house) then you do not need to do anything, your cable or satellite company will ensure you receive all your existing free and subscription channels.

If you already own a FREEVIEW box, or your TV has FREEVIEW built-in to the set, you will need to perform a series of ‘re-tunes’ before, during and after the switch-off of the old analogue services. Re-tuning varies from box to box, but involves going into your setup screen and selecting the setup or new installation options. You can see some excellent guides here and here, courtesy of the beeb.

There are a few that still have no kind of digital provision in their households and if you are over 75 (or under 75 and on certain benefits) there is still some free help and assistance available. The Switchover Help Scheme was setup with £200m of government money to help people switch one of their sets to digital. That fund is now being re-directed to the government’s universal broadband pledge and therefore free switchover assistance will not be with us for too long.

If you wish to check if you are eligible for free switchover assistance, you can call the help scheme for free on 0800 408 5900 or attend one of the digital switchover roadshows, see a list of the roadshows here.

Don’t forget, if you already have FREEVIEW, re-tune your box NOW!

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Landline tax + Digital TV surplus = Broadband for all (but a cold home)

In February, I reported the fact that the Government had underspent £130m of digital TV switchover money that was destined for the over-75s. The money was supposed to offer financial and technical assistance for set-top boxes, to ensure that the vulnerable were able to continue to watch free-to-air TV channels. The fund has now built up to a figure of around £200m and OfCom has decided, as part of the Digital Britain report, that the money can be used to pay for the Government’s much trumpeted universal Broadband pledge.

£200m, it seems, is not enough – so a “landline tax” will be introduced that will equate to around £6 per year for each household that is connected to a telephone landline (be it BT, Virgin or one of the other numerous carriers). It’s estimated that this “landline tax” will generate between £150m-£175m per year towards the plans, with the ultimate goal being superfast broadband across the entire country, including remote and rural areas where the economics would not support a commercial solution.

While I wholeheartedly support this initiative by the UK Government to offer super-fast broadband to every part of the country, I have to question the priority of this scheme over, say, a UK-wide fund that could end fuel poverty with millions of people across Britain  struggling to afford to heat their homes, including four out of five single pensioners.

I would happily pay an extra £6 per year on my fuel bill if it meant that millions could be lifted out of Fuel Poverty and this is the cornerstone of Liberal Democrat MP David Heath’s Fuel Poverty Bill. It would have delivered a massive home insulation programme which would halve the energy needed to heat the average home. And it would have ended the scandal of those who use pre-pay meters – generally the least well-off – paying higher rates for their gas and electricity.

Unfortunately, the bill was defeated by Labour when it had it’s reading in Parliament and without Government support the bill looks dead in the water.

Sadly, year after year the Government have failed to take the necessary action to deliver on their statutory targets to end fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010 and in other households by 2016. They have been repeatedly taken to task by their own Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, whose last annual report contained the damning verdict: “The Government’s policies and lack of action have now made it impossible to meet the 2010 target”. In fact, last autumn Help the Aged and Friends of the Earth took the Government to court for failing to comply with their legal commitment. Disappointingly, in a perverse judgment (which is being appealed) the High Court let the Government off the hook by ruling that the targets were merely “aspirations”.

More than 20,000 people die from the cold during the winter and many more become ill. The average fuel bill is now more than double what it was five years ago, and energy prices continue to rise. Urgent measures are needed to help people who are struggling to heat their homes. The energy measures in the Bill will reduce households’ energy use by up to 70 per cent.

I admit that I have an ulterior motive in seeing my taxes spent on home insulation rather than home broadband, since I am a home insulation surveyor by trade – but I would feel a bit more positive about giving up £6 a year if I felt it was going to someone less fortunate than myself to ensure they had a warm home to live in, rather than a fast connection to my blog.

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Investigation into Life in Salford launched

by Tom Rodgers, originally posted over at Salford Online

As part of its Digital Britain report, the government is to launch an investigation into free council newsletters including John Merry’s baby, Life in Salford, to discover the effect they are having on the local press.

The report said it would be “against the public interest” for local papers to be rendered commercially unviable by the flight of paid-for advertising to local authority publications.

The local spending watchdog The Audit Commission will carry out the inquiry to work out whether “restraints should be placed on local authority activity in this field.”

The report said:

“While local authority information sheets can serve a useful purpose for local residents and businesses, they will inevitably not be as rigorous in holding local institutions to account as independent local media.”

You may remember all the fuss back in November 2008 when Cllr Steve Cooke resigned from the editorial board of Life in Salford, citing the fact that:

The editorial board has next to no editorial control over the content of Life; no say in its distribution, size or business model (as Cllr. Merry has been so keen to demonstrate). The board meets rarely and meetings are not minuted; there are no terms of reference; and the board appears to have no powers. In short, it is utterly pointless.

It is my firm opinion that the editorial board exists solely to provide a thin veneer of democratic respectability to an often misleading and relentlessly and unjustifiably upbeat publication.

And Mr Merry sanctioned a £175,000 investment in this freesheet to increase the frequency and size to a monthly 16 page “magazine for people who live or work in Salford”.

Salford Advertiser and other local organisations have no doubt lost out in terms of advertising revenue from the council, which now with its own glossy rag, has no need to pay to put public notices in other media like local papers, magazines or websites.

When we spoke to Mr Merry (now Mr Merry CBE) at a recent event, he told us that there are certain areas of Salford that Advertiser “just doesn’t get to” and that his free paper gave out vital information to the people, reaching 110,000 homes.

But the problem is that it exists not to tell the truth or to provide scrutiny or accountability. Its purpose is to “sell the message of success”.

It is essentially a public relations tool – there will never be any criticism of council policy in there.

The Salford city council website tells you themselves: “It aims to reflect the positive, forward-thinking new image for the city and Salford City Council.

While it’s trying to be an events guide and information sheet (community committees and the like) it is still “unjustifiably upbeat” and a threat to the future of all local media, be it the Salford Advertiser, SalfordOnline or the Salford Star.

Posted in Media | 7 Comments

41 jobs axed at Manchester’s Channel M

Just heard the terrible news that Channel M is to shed 41 of it’s 74 full-time staff are to be made redundant. This announcment, courtesy of my favourite media site Digital Spy, comes hot on the heals of Guardian Media Group’s recent decision to slash local Salford reporters and centralise the Salford Advertiser at the MEN’s city centre offices.

According to The Guardian, staff were told that Channel M’s schedule will be reduced from June, with sports programming and a local evening news bulletin becoming the main aspects of its output.

GMG Regional Media chief executive Mark Dodson said the job cuts were “deeply regrettable but, in the current climate and in the context of wider changes in our industry, they are unavoidable”.

The news comes a month after MEN Media announced that it would be closing all editorial offices of its 22 weekly newspapers in the north-west and axing up to 150 jobs across these titles and its flagship daily Manchester Evening News, including 78 editorial roles.

That announcement saw criticism from local Salford councillors who felt that the Labour-led Salford Council’s decision to cut advertising and statutory public notices from the Salford Advertiser, in favour of it’s own in-house “IN Life” magazine contributed to the decision and subsequent local job losses.

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£130m a year digital switch-over surplus battle commences

Following the goverments’ dreadful handling of the digital switchover programme, most of which was farmed out to a private company, it has been revealed that there will be a £130m a year surplus a year due to the underspend. The money was originally earmarked to provide financial & technical assistance for the new set-top boxes for the over-75s. Sadly, the assistance has been poorly advertised and provided, with most over 75s either purchasing the new kit out of their own pocket or not bothering at all.

Now the vultures are circling, with Channel 4 favourite to take a slice to help it fund the channel’s £150m funding gap. While the money was supposed to be ring-fenced, Ofcom seems to suggest that it could be used for other projects within the TV industry. Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, said ” If some of that is unused it is absolutely legitimate to ask what the best use of that money is.”

I think that considering some of the reception problems already occuring since the digital switchover started (for example in Irlam & Cadishead), this money should be put back into the very scheme it was designed for in the first place – that is, helping ensure that all have access to freeview digital channels, including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

I would expand the scheme to include over 60s, rather than just over 75s and if funds allow, other vulnerable groups.

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Should the BBC & Sky show the Gaza humanitarian appeal?

The press get critised a lot these days for putting their own “spin” on a story, in order to make it sell or at least ensure it’s watched more than the other channel (or read more than the other paper). But I think if we live in a society of free speech and aim to have a truly independent press and media, then we should occasionally expect decisions such as the BBC’s latest; to refuse to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Gaza huminatarian appeal.

I’m not saying I agree with their decision not to show the appeal (Sky have still yet to make their minds up), but I do agree that the producers and editors have the freedom to choose what programmes, advertisements or appeals they show.

One could offer a comparison with the bus company that decided it would be a good idea to allow their advertising space to carry the banner “there’s probably no god”. While not everyone in the bus company agreed with the advertisement (including the bus driver that refused to drive those buses), it still chose to carry them anyway.

It’s free speech or communism………….I know which one I choose.

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