Full text of letter sent by Wycombe Labour's press officer to the Bucks Free Press' letters page. Will they print it???
I have been the press officer for Wycombe Labour for about 3 years. During that time the most frequent question I have been asked is why Wycombe Labour gets such little coverage in the Bucks Free Press or, less politely, why I waste my time trying to get Wycombe Labour’s views into what is a Tory magazine.
Up to now, I have explained to people that the BFP is a private sector company whose responsibility is to make a profit for its shareholders and thus increase its readership on-line and in print. Like other newspapers, it has no obligation to be politically neutral or fair or balanced.
I also point out that it is natural that there is a Tory bias in the paper; most of the political institutions in Bucks are Tory-dominated (e.g. Wycombe District Council, Bucks County Council) and all of the Bucks MPs are Tories. If the BFP report what the local Councils and MPs do, it will be reporting on the activities of the Tories.
And I add that I am an unpaid, untrained volunteer who does the job in my spare time. The MPs and Councils on the other hand have full-time, paid, professional press officers or agents. I would expect the paid professionals to flood the media with their news.
Nevertheless, up to recently, I have been able to say that Wycombe Labour has had reasonable coverage in the BFP.
I regularly put out a couple of press releases a week, plus letters, plus statements or responses to news. All of this has been of local interest, topical and I hope interesting to Wycombe readers. All of this material has also been carefully researched so we can back up what we say with evidence. Frequently the BFP has asked for our source material and I have been happy to provide this.
Most of this material, until recently, was covered by the BFP and/or other local newspapers and/or local radio and occasionally by the national press and TV. So we must have been doing something right.
However, something changed at Christmas. Suddenly, nothing from Wycombe Labour went into the Bucks Free Press.
Naturally I asked why. The BFP was kind enough to explain the difficulties and said they hoped they could cover more of our stories in future - which they assured me were invariably newsworthy.
Unfortunately, 5 months later, this is not happening. The BFP prints letters we send in and it covers something of what Labour Councillors say at WDC meetings. But little else.
The BFP has ignored, amongst other things, items we have put out on
- the PREVENT programme in Wycombe,
- the EDL march in Wycombe,
- the demolishing of social housing in Castlefield,
- the proposals for a unitary council in Bucks,
- the privatisation of schools in Bucks,
- the EU,
- the lack of school places,
- WDC’s failure to deliver on its targets in its corporate plan,
- the increase in crime and our concerns on gang crime,
- tax havens,
- the local ambulance service
- school funding
- the use of B&Bs outside Wycombe by WDC for homeless families, and
- funding cuts in Bucks to organisations giving advice to young people on sexual health and sexually transmitted infections.
Over this same period, there have been numerous articles from Tories or Tory-dominated bodies in the BFP. These articles appeared to go in unchallenged by the BFP who never seemed to check their accuracy as they did with our stories. Neither was the Labour Party, the main opposition party, given any opportunity to comment on these stories although the Tories were invariably given the opportunity to comment on ours.
The article in the BFP on Friday from the Police and Crime Commissioner illustrates the one-sided nature of BFP’s coverage and its double standards towards the Wycombe Labour Party. I have set this out in some detail in an annex and I have put some questions for the BFP to answer. I hope you consider this carefully.
The edition on Friday was for me the last straw. There is a single mention of Wycombe Labour amongst the Tory deluge and, to add injury to insult, this mention was a statement by Steve Baker to say that Labour supported his EU Vote Leave campaign – a statement which is completely untrue.
So enough is enough. If someone asked me the question now as to why I waste my time trying to get Wycombe Labour’s views into what is a Tory magazine, I simply haven’t got an answer.
It is time for me to stop battling against such an extraordinary in-built bias in the BFP’s reporting. Just to remind you 66% of Wycombe voters didn’t vote Tory in Wycombe at the last general election. Of course, Wycombe Labour recognises the dominance of elected Tories in Wycombe but, in proportion to our votes, we would expect about half the coverage the Tories get.
I have told Wycombe Labour I am prepared to continue as press officer unless someone else wants to have a go at bashing their head against BFP’s brick wall. However, in future, unless I am replaced, Wycombe’s views/opinions will be found on our website and Facebook. You can follow us on Twitter if you wish. I will occasionally provide a link for the media to anything I think they might find interesting. We will do the occasional letter and I am happy to provide responses to news on request and provide interviewees.
This is a major challenge for someone like me. The social media revolution has passed me by and I am computer illiterate. I may well crash the Labour Party website and bring cheer to many in Wycombe.
But I think the BFP is now a Tory magazine; it has lost the right to call itself the Bucks Free Press.
Wycombe Labour has been raising concerns about crime in Wycombe, including gang crime, for many months. The BFP covered these concerns, including our concerns about gang crime, up to Christmas, despite the police downplaying our concerns.
However since then, we have had no coverage.
In January, we pointed out that, after a decade of decreasing crime, recorded crime was on the increase and provided the link to the Government statistics. The BFP did not cover this.
In February, we issued a press release pointing out that the Home Office had concerns about gang crime in Wycombe and had selected Wycombe for its programme set up to combat gang-crime. We also pointed out the Home Office had promptly closed the programme due to austerity cuts. The BFP did not cover this.
In April, the Police and Crime Commissioner put out a leaflet as part of his electioneering material claiming that during his time in office crime had gone down. We put out a press release pointing out that crime had gone up with the evidence in detail. The BFP did not cover this.
A few days later, the police put out the crime stats for 2015/6 and indeed recorded crime had gone up. The BFP did not ask for, or cover, our response.
In May we put out a press release again expressing our concern about gang crime in Wycombe based on papers to the office of the London Mayor which said that 85 gangs based in London were operating in the Home Counties and 4 of these were operating in Wycombe. We pointed out that the stats did indeed show an increase in the sort of crime you would expect from an increase in gang activity i.e. drug dealing and possession of a weapon. The BFP did not cover this.
Instead the BFP put an article on-line from the Police and Crime Commissioner (and a shortened version in the paper on Friday). He says crime is spiralling because of the operation of East European gangs. He cites this as one of the reasons for leaving the EU. The BFP did not come to us for a comment.
Now we find from the Observer that the PCC’s comments are part of a Brexit campaign to frighten us with the prospects of immigration from Turkey.
So I ask
- Why has the BFP not covered any of our material on crime since Christmas?
- Why has the BFP not asked us to respond to the articles on the increase in crime and on the alleged East European gangs?
- Did the BFP ask the PCC for his evidence for his assertion that the increase in crime is due to East European gangs?
- Did the BFP ask the PCC why in April before the election he thought crime had gone down but now he thought crime was going up?
- Did the BFP know that the PCC’s comments were part of a co-ordinated campaign by Brexit?