Monday, 16 April 2012

Medway Times eviction

Medway Times evicted because of 'political' content

The news last week that the Medway Times was evicted from its premises at the Medway Innovation Centre has been met by mumurs of concern amongst the chattering intelligentsia in Gun Wharf and beyond.

The Medway Times, for those that dont know, is an independent news website with a focus on the Medway Towns. Established about six months ago it has presented itself as a niche newsite in that it publishes, in one place, all the press releases from organisations, people and charities from across the Medway Towns.

What became quickly apparent was that the site did not have its own editorial position; it seemed to many to be quite literally a cut and paste of press releases.

It was therefore a surprise, no actually an angered shock, that I read that the Medway Times had been evicted from its premises last week and that the justification for its eviction was based on the content of a number of its press releases.

As a former legal editor of Palatinate (as Treasurer of the Student Union) I had to read over the content. On a number of occassions the articles over-stepped the mark and I would receive legal letters from media lawyers calling for me to withdraw the article because of libel. It is from that process that I know that proving libel is not only expensive but very difficult; in essence as long as their is a reasoned context to say something from evidence that you rationally believe, its likely it is not libel. If you make efforts to redress, in all but the most serious of cases, there is no further recourse.

The allegation by the Medway Times was that they had been evicted because they printed ad-verbatim the press release of Jack Hope.

What I cant understand is how one press release; they printed ad-verbatim and probably in good faith, could lead to a business being evicted on a whim. Surely, even if this were true, and of course that has to be proved, the appropriate sanction would be to request the paper withdrew the piece and print a retraction; which the paper did when requested as I understand. It should have ended there...

But it didnt end there.

What gets more fishy is that according to the Medway Times a senior politician had deliberately intervened in the process to ensure that the independent website was evicted from the premises. Not only is this a commercial breach of sensitivity but it smells fishy when any party (including my own) tries to control the content of the free media.

If true, and this is an if, it presents a very dangerous step indeed; because in effect a politician has used a contractural loop-hole on 'political organisation' to evict an independent media organisation solely for printing, and it is my belief not with malice, articles which could be deemed to libel.

A paper will have an editorial slant and in many cases a vantage point. The irony in this case is that Times has neither and in my mind was not party political; it printed everything sent to it. It is almost apolitical.

I absolutely understand the online forum has to be careful, but to the public this smells like something an overkill of dangerous propotions. My suspicion is that there is something behind this if someone were to dig.

Maybe there are other issues at play but then why would the editor deliberately lurch out as he did if this were solely an issue on premises and rent.

Allowing this type of incident to occur, without redress, makes it look like that political actions have led to the closing of the modern day equivalent of the print press. The public dont respond well to that type of behaviour; anywhere.

People respond badly when the free press is silenced and especially if there is a perceived political motivation behind it.

Luckily for the Medway Times they live to print another day; elsewhere.

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