Greenwich Time: ‘Cut unflattering content or we’ll get our P45s’

An ad for street wardens in Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper removed references to shoplifting and rough sleeping in Woolwich for fear they would prove embarrassing, it has emerged.

Greenwich Time, 5 November 2013The promotion for the council’s in-house recruitment agency also cut a reference to a recruit’s six children because the council’s chief executive was apparently “nervous” about mentioning large families, according to an email seen by this website.

The email, sent by a member of the council’s full-time staff, also disproves a claim by council leader Chris Roberts that no Greenwich employees “undertake editorial work” on Greenwich Time.

It was sent on 31 May by council head of press Stuart Godfrey to a manager at Greenwich Local Labour and Business (GLLaB), the council’s employment operation, copying in a Greenwich Time writer, a GT ad sales executive and another member of the council’s press team.

Titled “Are you trying to get me laid off”, Godfrey writes “we’ll need to redact the content or you and I will both be handed our P45s”.

The advertorial, which was due to run in the 4 June edition, featured short interviews with a woman and a man who had gained jobs as street wardens via GLLaB. The email outlines two issues with the copy which he says would cause problems.

Godfrey says that in the woman’s story, “it says she deals with rough sleepers, street drinkers and shop lifters. All positive messages about our area which will cause us problems at sign off I’m sure”.

The “sign off” process, this website has been told, is conducted by Roberts and chief executive Mary Ney.

He then rewrites the copy to remove these references.

So I’m suggesting that we redact the following paras from:

“Out on patrol, I speak to rough sleepers about their welfare and advise street drinkers on their conduct in a public place. I monitor Woolwich town centre and issue fines to anyone I see dropping litter. I also speak to traders about how they dispose of their rubbish. It is my job to keep an eye out for any anti-social behaviour.

“Today I liaised with the Police and CCTV team about the identification of shoplifters. After lunch, I helped a member of the public with directions and spoke to a group of young people about what is being shown on the Big Screen in General Gordon Square. I also advise them about a youth centre service available to them.”

To:

“Out on patrol I monitor Woolwich town centre and issue fines to anyone I see dropping litter. I also speak to traders about how they dispose of their rubbish. It is my job to keep an eye out for any anti-social behaviour. I help members of the public with directions and inform them about events and entertainment taking place in the town centre. I also advise young people about youth centre service available to them.”

He also says: “The ad mentions that [name deleted] is a father of six – and as we know Mary is nervous about promoting the number of children each of the recruits has so we’ll need to cut the number of kids he has.”

Unpublished Greenwich Time page from 4 June 2013 issueIn the end, the advertisement did not appear, although a page plan was produced featuring the original version.

Evidence of how the council’s head of press gets involved in Greenwich Time’s content comes despite Chris Roberts claiming all editorial work is done by freelancers.

Asked at a council meeting in July “how many council staff have working on Greenwich Time, either in editorial or sales, as part of their duties,” Roberts replied in a written answer: “There are no council staff who undertake either editorial or sales work on Greenwich Time.”

The question of Greenwich Time’s staffing has come under the spotlight recently, after chief reporter Peter Cordwell was sacked for writing a letter to local newspapers about the Lewisham Hospital campaign and zero hours contracts, both sensitive subjects at Woolwich Town Hall. He is now taking the issue to an industrial tribunal.

Later, editor Hilary Bryan and assistant editor Rod Kitson were thrown out of the council’s headquarters after refusing to attend a meeting with Godfrey and council director of culture, media and sport Katrina Delaney. Bryan is back working at GT, while Kitson is no longer there.

The weekly has limped on since that debacle, last week featuring a front cover claiming “council listens to traders” over its decision to order a review of the controversial “pavement tax” on retailers’ displays. A stilted write-up inside the paper merely referred to “concerns raised by businesses” and does not refer to a petition they got up, nor did it refer to their demonstration outside last month’s council meeting.

None of this is to mock the work of Stuart Godfrey or his colleagues in the council communications department, who are professionals doing the work they are directed to do – which, despite Chris Roberts’ denials, includes working on Greenwich Time, designed to manage the reputation of the council rather than inform residents.

Greenwich Time is just one of two weekly council papers in the country, but its days are likely to be numbered. A bill which would ban the likes of GT is currently going through the committee stage of the House of Commons, and could become law next year.

Greenwich Council was asked for a comment on this story, but has not responded.

PS. This week’s edition, incidentally, shows the fear of mentioning large families may have faded somewhat – a front page story featuring someone else with a job through GLLaB proudly boasts that he’s a dad-of-five.

10 comments

  1. “… we’ll need to cut the number of kids he has.” Probably just careless phrasing, but if I were that warden I’d be worried.

  2. Whenever I read your posts about Chris Roberts and his lackeys I think of how frequently (ie daily for decades) the Soviets ‘tweaked’ the facts for a better story. Denying reality is unsustainable in the long run, as evidenced by their eventual collapse.

    My worry posting this is that someone in the council reads it and thinks we’ll get away with this for a few years yet…

  3. I notice the image of the mock-up shows “ADVERTISING FEATURE” at the top. They aren’t just censuring normal copy, they’re changing the adverts as well! I wonder how much GLLaB are charged for these “advertisements”?

  4. “Censoring”, not “censuring”. Although they are pretty censorious if they have an objection to large families.

  5. We were never allowed to call the riots riots, of course – they were “disturbances”. Armageddon, presumably, would be an “unavoidable delay to local services”.You had to be there…

  6. Where did that bloody word ‘redact’ come from?

    I guess it’s first use was to avoid using the word ‘remove’, but to me it is more sinister — especially when used by a council employee about a council publication he’s not supposed to have editorial control over.

    I’ve just retired after nearly 40 years in journalism. Has GT got room for an impartial sub?

  7. Redact is clearly the Newspeak of those who not only need to impress those subjected to the redaction but to demonstrate that the authority involved is total. It’s almost always the case that those well-versed in redactions (?) also see themselves as masters of an equally ugly word – rebuttals (ergh!). The easy way to understand all this is to read Animal Farm and study the definitive redactor/rebutter, Squealer. Advert: in our musical show ‘One Georgie Orwell’ there’s a song called ‘Boxer’s Blues’ that includes the verse: ‘They (the pigs) didn’t own the Daily Mail/so they left all the lies to Squealer/ funny how there’s a faithful friend/ for every double dealer.’ All good harmless fun.

  8. Flogging the wrong horse with this specific example, I’d have thought – isn’t the key word *advert*orial? I’d expect the council’s comms department to be ensuring that ads for them or for related organisations reflect the message they want to convey.

    Arguing with the message is one thing, and criticising interference with *edit*orial is another, but a careful eye on this sort of placed copy is quite legitimate.

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