State-run websites are no match for magazine press

Governments have a nasty habit of formulating policy and legislation that have accidentally negative implications for the press. The current one has raised the habit to an art form. The latest is its e-government plan which aims to put all public sector services online by 2005. Fair enough; it means we can use the web to pay taxes, claim benefits and keep track of public services. But it also means all public sector jobs will have be advertised on Government-run websites. That could have dire consequences for magazine publishers, for whom recruitment advertising revenue is vital for their survival. Some 2,500 magazines could be affected, including some of the most important business and consumer titles in a number of sectors.

The Government has admitted to the Periodial Publishers Association that its plan may have “unintended” consequences for some members. But does it realise how vital a function is performed by a robust and independent magazine press? And does it care enough to do something about it?

Community Care, to take one example of a title rich in public sector advertising, was praised by Lord Laming for its robust and independent coverage of the Victoria Climbie inquiry. Would we have got that from a Government-run website? We would not.

The PPA wants to explore a way forward that involves partnerships between Government and publishers. After all, it points out, publishing is a specialist skill that civil servants may not find as easy – or as cost effective – as they might think.

Let’s hope ministers stop to listen and think before blundering on and causing damage they do not fully understand.

Prize chumps over data

The Data Protection Act has been used as an excuse to withhold all sorts of details from the press before now, but has it really come to this? Last week, readers of the Western Daily Press turned to its special eight-page pullout containing reports and results from the Royal Bath & West Show. Four of them were missing. The reason? Organisers feared transgressing the act if they passed on details of certain of the show’s winners without their permission.

And what confidential private information were they so fearful of putting before the South West’s public? The results of the show’s flower-arranging, honey-making and jam-making competitions.

The winner of the Bramble Jelly category must be resting easy tonight, safe in the cradle of her anonymity.

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