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April 29, 2008

Bermuda hit by ad boycott

By James Ball

The Royal Gazette in Bermuda could be forced to make “significant economies” after the government withdrew all advertising and sponsorship following a row over Freedom of Information, its editor has said.

The paper, which is largely staffed by UK journalists, has a daily circulation of 14,000 in the British overseas territory.

Editor Bill Zuill said that the government funding boycott began a week after the end of ‘Sunshine Week’in which the paper campaigned for greater openness from the government.

Zuill said the move would cost the paper $800,000 a year – which he said was equivalent to the wages of ten of its 33 editorial staff.

He said: ‘My own view is that Sunshine Week was the final nail in the coffin for government. They may have sped up a plan that was already in place to try to squeeze us financially, because we are the most assertive and largest media vehicle on the island.”

He said the move ‘would not break us financially”, but would require the paper to make ‘significant economies”.

The Bermudan government said their decision was part of wider cutbacks aimed at spending money more effectively.

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In a press statement, it said: “The Cabinet determined it was not cost effective or penetrative enough to rely heavily on print advertising in an electronically advanced community.”

Zuill said the government had made no attempt to re-negotiate subscription or advertising rates before cutting off deals.

‘We do not think that we have a right to government advertising,’he added, ‘but we do think the government has an obligation to spend its advertising budget as effectively as possible.

‘With a paid circulation of around 14,000 and readership among adults of around 80 percent of the community, we have far and away the broadest and deepest reach of any single advertiser. ‘

Zuill accused the government of moving to less effective advertising channels, including websites and radio stations owned by government senators.

The Royal Gazette, Bermuda’s only daily paper, has an audited circulation of 14,000 and is in its 180th year.

It has 14 UK journalists including former employees of the Daily Mail, Northern Echo, Birmingham Post, Wolverhampton Express and Star and theGrimsby Telegraph.

Jo Glanville, of Index on Censorship, said: “The Bermuda government appears to be shooting itself in the foot – damaging its own relationship with the wider public by withdrawing its cooperation from the island’s leading newspaper. This is a very unsubtle tactic and a worrying threat to freedom of the press.”

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