Did Herefordshire Council deliberately release news that it was axing its beloved flagship publication Herefordshire Matters on the same day as the Cyprus Savings Robbery, as it was “a good day to bury bad news”?
‘Pravda’, as the 24-page full colour magazine came to be known by its critics, was industrial-strength public relations bullshit, which only ever heaped glory on the ruling elite. One memorable issue (summer 2012) contained six photos of council chairperson Olwyn Barnett, whilst non-persons such as Chris Chappell, Mark Hubbard and Terry James were usually air-brushed out of existence. Balanced reports of council or cabinet meetings never appeared. I sent a copy of one issue—with a letter of complaint—to local government minister Eric Pickles and didn’t even get a reply (it was he who famously described these council free-sheets as ‘propaganda on the rates’). Perhaps I should have included a coupon for 12 free pies.
Four years ago, under the aegis of council business item ‘questions to council from members of the public’, I asked just how much Herefordshire Matters cost to print and distribute county-wide. Deputy leader June French courteously supplied the answer: £65,000 – though it was later pointed out to me that the figure almost certainly disguised the dozens of hours of in-house writing, which council galley slaves had to produce. The ‘saving’ figure currently being quoted by the council is now £75,000pa.
Wanting to test the magazine’s impartial editorial policy, I wrote to Ms French, offering to contribute a short article on behalf of Rail for Herefordshire (RfH), which is a non-political pressure group dedicated to improving rail travel across the county. My offer was accepted and my copy submitted.
A couple of ‘small changes’ were requested to my text. It was felt inappropriate, with the general election only two months away, that Jesse Norman’s campaigning for the twin-tracking of the Hereford to Ledbury line should be included in the piece. The second requested excision—even more bizarre—concerned my ‘criticism’ of Hereford Futures. In fact, the text read: “Some people feel that they [Hereford Futures] have not taken full advantage of the opportunities offered by the building of the new link road to create a genuine transport interchange in front of Hereford station.”
After this sharp smack on the wrist, I decided to call it a day and (with RfH chairman’s approval) withdrew the article, to let ‘Pravda’ go on ploughing its solitary furrow of self-congratulation. Which thankfully has now ended.