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July 3, 2018

Weekly Wales titles lose political columns after redesign but Assembly Member warns move will ‘weaken understanding of politics’

By Freddy Mayhew

A Welsh Assembly Member has warned a decision by the the largest newspaper publisher in Wales to remove political columns from some of its titles is “not good for democracy”.

Media Wales is no longer featuring columns from local Assembly Members in some of its weekly print newspapers following a redesign that allows them to be produced “more efficiently”, according to a spokesperson.

Titles believed to be affected include the Cynon Valley Leader, Pontypridd Observer, Rhondda Leader, Merthyr Express, Rhymney Valley Express.

The group, owned by Reach (formerly Trinity Mirror), also publishes the Daily Post, South Wales Evening Post, Western Mail, South Wales Echo and Wales on Sunday, as well as website Wales Online.

Vikki Howells AM tabled a Statement of Opinion with the Welsh Assembly last week, putting on record her opposition to Reach’s decision and highlighting it as an issue, although the Assembly is not obliged to respond.

The statement, which is equivalent to an Early Day Motion in the UK Parliament, also noted the removal of political columns was made “without any notice or consultation”.

It said the decision would “weaken understanding of politics” and the work of the Welsh Assembly.

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In a comment to Press Gazette, Howells added: “Columns in local newspapers are a really useful way for local representatives… to keep communities and residents informed of their activities…

“Taking away these columns makes it harder for representatives to communicate with the people who elect them. This is not good for democracy or public participation.

“Moreover, the removal of localised political columns, alongside the seeming demise of letter pages from readers, makes it harder for people to know what is going on in their own areas.”

She said she the thought the decision was “a bad one” and wanted to urge Reach to think again.

A Reach spokesperson said political columns had been removed from “a handful” of its weekly titles which were “redesigned to allow them to be produced more efficiently”.

They added: “[This] has meant that, for the time being, we will not be featuring the columns of those local Assembly Members who had been lucky enough to have one.

“A local Assembly Member having a column in one of our titles is a privilege, not a right.

“We are there to scrutinise elected members – not guarantee them an unfiltered platform to tell their constituents whatever they like.”

The spokesperson said Reach was “as committed to political coverage in Wales as we’ve ever been”.

They added that the” successful implementation” of the Local Democracy Reporter scheme, in partnership with the BBC, meant “coverage of local government in these areas is stronger than it’s been for a long time”.

“Our priority is holding Assembly Members to account, and that’s what we’ll continue to do,” they said.

Earlier this year, a report following months of inquiry into news journalism in Wales by the Welsh Assembly’s Culture Committee called on the Welsh Government to investigate a sustainable business model for journalism in Wales.

Separately a review into the sustainability of news journalism, the Cairncross Review, is being carried out by the UK Government.

Picture: Reuters

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