[UPDATED at 10.59am: Have added reference to PCC complaints against the Argus at the bottom]
(Full disclosure: I used to work with John at the council; my brother was recently news editor of the Argus).
The local rag’s thin-skinned editor Michael Beard sent him a furious email late yesterday whining that:
“…the tweet as a whole is defamatory in that it characterises The Argus (and therefore the Editor and individual members of staff) as a “rag” that carelessly or incompetently publishes false or misleading information and is not to be relied on.”
Quite apart from the fact that “local rag” is a well-worn synonym for good and poor newspapers up and down the land, I don’t have to tell you how risible this claim is. Can Mr Beard really be saying – with a straight face – that the Argus, one of the most complained about local newspapers in the PCC’s groaning inbox*, never ‘carelessly or incompetently publishes false and misleading information’?
Here’s the full email:
From: Michael Beard [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: 14 June 2011 18:20
To: John Shewell
Subject: RE: Tourist Tax?
Further to your email I would like to bring to your attention a press release issued by the council and also to tweets made by the authority and yourself.
In your tweet you state: “Local rag runs ridiculous line that brighton and hove city council thinking of introducing “tourist tax” er…no we’re not”.
Nowhere in our story do we say you are thinking of introducing such a tax.
In another tweet you say you “believe journo mis-quoted cllr”.
Again this is incorrect. Cllr Bowden has not been misquoted.
The city council tweet states: “”Yesterday’s Argus story about “tourism tax” is wrong
As stated above the story is not wrong.
In your press release you state:
A leading councillor has written to the Argus refuting a report that the council plans to introduce a tax on tourists.
Cabinet councillor in charge of tourism Geoffrey Bowden says in his letter:
“Following reporter James Wallin’s story on June 13 suggesting we’re considering a tourist tax, I’m happy to say we are not.
“It is not on our agenda. Tourism taxes declared in one or two places seem like an inherently risky idea. I’m guessing people would simply go elsewhere. Such a tax might also discriminate against poorer families.”
You have now moved from claiming The Argus reported you were thinking of introducing a tax to stating we reported you are planning to introduce one.
Nowhere do we state you are either thinking or planning to introduce such a tax. What we do state is: “The new Green cabinet yesterday said they would investigate the creation of a tourist tax if there was support for it.”
I should also point out that the press release arrived before I spoke to Cllr Bowden. When I mentioned it to him he had no knowledge of it and had not seen it. He asked me if his name was on it and when I replied that it was he said: “Good God.” This raises questions over the press release statement that he had written to us.
Having spoken to Cllr Bowden he was happy to correct his original tweet and has published another to clarify the point.
As to your comment describing the Argus as a “local rag”, the advice from our company lawyer is that the tweet as a whole is defamatory in that it characterises The Argus (and therefore the Editor and individual members of staff) as a “rag” that carelessly or incompetently publishes false or misleading information and is not to be relied on.
Our concern is that you have spread false and insulting information about The Argus apparently designed to discredit us and our staff. I am taking advice on how to protect our employees from these unjustified attacks.
As your tweets and press release have already been picked up and broadcast I would appreciate a speedy resolution to this matter.
I look forward to hearing from you.
*The PCC Watch website catalogues newspaper ballsups, including those of the Argus (ignore references to other Argus papers, like the one in South Wales). According to my manual count-up, the Argus appears to have had more PCC interventions in Mr Beard’s time as editor than most (maybe any) other regional newspaper in the country. I certainly can’t find a more complained-about paper. I stand to be corrected.
And as a comparison, here’s the Birmingham Post’s complaints – a massive newspaper.
Complaints at the Argus seem to have risen steeply since about 2005. Interestingly, the Argus has had two more this year.