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April 9, 2008

Council brings to an end 30 years of community press

Many of Edinburgh’s communities, particularly the more disadvantaged, have a long tradition of running their own community newspapers. A small Council grant towards core costs has kept them afloat. These newspapers are highly valued by their communities and make a vital contribution to community life. The Council has decided to withdraw funding


In what has been described as a ‘blow to press freedom’ and ‘a shabby way to treat people’ the council saw fit to give less than a week’s notice that the proposal to stop funding the Edinburgh Community Newspaper Trust (ECNT) was to go before the meeting of the full council. The West Edinburgh Times, Gorgie Dalry Gazette, North Edinburgh News, The Chronicle and the South Edinburgh Echo are all members of the ECNT and all now face an uncertain future, with at least two planning to cease publication and the other three struggling to stay afloat. When you consider that four out of the five have been serving their communities for 30 or more years it is indeed a shabby way to treat the people in these communities.

The ECNT organised a deputation to go before all council members to plead the case for community newspapers and their inherent value to their communities. Pentlands MSP David McLetchie felt strongly enough that he offered to be a part of the deputation and speak on behalf of the ECNT, but due to council business running late Mr McLetchie didn’t get that chance and had to return to speak in the Parliament.

Anyway, that appeal fell on deaf ears and the planned cuts went through, the motion being formally proposed by Councillor Gordon Mackenzie the Liberal Democrat member for Southside/ Newington and seconded by Nick Elliott-Cannon the SNP Councillor for the Sighthill/ Gorgie ward, the constituency pa r t cove red by the We s t Edinburgh Times and the Gorgie Dalry Gazette.

Despite letters of support sent to the leaders of the coalition parties who now run the council no stay of execution was forthcoming. These letters are on page two and three of this issue. An angry David McLetchie said in his letter: “I am appalled at the decision of the city council to withdraw grant support from the West Edinburgh Times and four other community newspapers in the city which threatens their future.

“This is a real body blow to all the many individuals and organisations who have worked so hard in Wes ter Hai les , Broomhouse, Sighthill, Parkhead, Redhal l and Longs tone t o improve the quality of life in our communities and for whom the West Edinburgh Times has been the publication which unites us all, promotes all the positive activities that are taking place and motivates us to do more.”

No reason has been given to the ECNT why the council decided, without warning, to completely cut their funding. The cover-all term ‘budget cuts’ too often bandied about in these situations simply doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. If good housekeeping is the aim of the new administration how can they justify spending £500, 000 to produce their own publication Outlook that is published only four times a year. The total budget for the ECNT – funding five MONTHLY community newspapers was £127,100 – almost a quarter of Outlook’s cost.

Many people regard the c o u n c i l ’ s decision as a ‘political’ one probably because many of the papers were set up under a Labour administration in traditionally Labour areas.

The phrase ‘Labour Rag’ is a term that community newspapers have often been accused of over the years, but nothing could be further from the truth. S p e a k i n g f o r t h e We s t Edinburgh Times, if there is an event happening with a politician in our area we feature the story and photograph regardless of which political party they represent. It would be against a journalist’s code of ethics to do otherwise.

We pride ourselves on our neutrality and I’ve told people till I’m blue in the face that the West Edinburgh Times is like Switzerland – neutral. We’ll certainly stand up for the underdog if we feel they are being treated unfairly, but we’ll always feature both sides of an argument – political or non-political.

Geoff Palmer, a distinguished professor of Jamaican descent, who we interviewed for our feature in the January issue ‘Scotland’s Role in the Slave Trade’ and has a letter on page two, said he hoped the decision had not been taken for political reasons.

He said: “In my dealings with the paper I’ve found it to be fair and independent. If you’re taking away the voice of the community for political reasons then this is wrong and if it is a political decision then this is an insult to the community.

“We don’t want to substitute racial prejudice with political prejudice.”

The high regard that the community newspapers were held, even by the council, is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that for almost the last three years the ECNT had been in negotiations with the council to look at ways of extending our coverage citywide.

The council wanted t o include information normally contained in the Out look into the community papers because, as one councillor said, the community press is more respected within communities and people know that Outlook is just council propaganda. Despite the ECNT’s efforts to work with the city council to help them get their message across to people we were still effectively closed without a second thought.

The West Edinburgh Times knows the value we bring to our community and is doing everything in its power to try and continue to do that. This edition, possibly our last, could only be published thanks to a generous donation from Prospect Community Housing based in Westburn and shows how local organisation’s like Prospect recognise the value of the community newspapers to their communities.

March, 08 Edition.
West Edinburgh Times