In May, Sheffield’s new Lord Mayor, Magid Magid, reportedly visited anti-fracking campaigners at the Preston site, which was blockaded last month.

No, you didn’t see Magid’s visit in the local papers. It’s an example of media silence. The Lord Mayor and local Green councillor received glowing coverage in May, but by early June the Young Greens were demanding an apology for a “vicious, racist and xenophobic front page attack” in The Sheffield Star. This was caused by the reporting of reader comment which, to most people, belongs in the past, such as, “The Lord Mayor should only be a person of white English descent,” and, “Sheffield’s new Lord Mayor is a Somali born Muslim. It’s an insult to the people of Sheffield.”

Should The Star have covered this? Well, our famous freedom of the press allows it and no doubt it sells papers. But it feels completely unnecessary. We know this minority’s viewpoint, so is it really front page news? Thankfully, Magid’s gracious response was also reported and he seems well-respected by the people of Sheffield in general.

Perhaps it’s too easy to criticise local newspapers. They must feel immense pressure from shareholders, councils, politicians, businesses, campaigns, readers and even central government. But what they don’t experience here is competition from rivals. Sheffield’s pretty much owned by Johnston Press PLC. This means the daily Sheffield Star and weekly Sheffield Telegraph, The Yorkshire Post and various smaller papers. This is part of a worrying trend towards media concentration in ever fewer hands.

Johnston Press, based in Scotland, claims to “touch the lives of more than 32m people nationally each month”. It owns big titles like the ‘i’ and prints over half a million newspapers daily. It’s a large and complex group, especially since it floated on the Stock Exchange three decades ago. The fact that it’s making losses year after year is one reason for selling off assets like the historic York Street site, where the first Sheffield Daily Telegraph was published in 1855, but it still has a Sheffield office and a large print facility in nearby Dinnington.

There’s little question that print media is declining. The ‘free ads’, properties for sale and ‘situations vacant’ that once filled newspapers with adverts and profits are nearly gone, swallowed by the rise of the internet. Instead, Johnston Press owns online services like jobstoday.co.uk and digitalkitbag.com. But cost-cutting also means fewer real journalists and more press releases. Many of these are written by companies or government – PR worded to sound like news.

Taking the example of fracking. Protests are often reported negatively or not at all. There’s huge coverage for ‘climate sceptical’ reports, yet many turn out to be funded by the fossil fuel industry, which also pays for newspaper advertising. That’s one reason why the mainstream media is becoming less trusted by the public. It’s telling that the phrase ‘mainstream media’ (or MSM) has now entered the MSM – as a criticism.

We need the press to do more than sucking up to the powerful and picking fruit from the money tree. We need it to challenge power and abuse, to speak the truth. Malcolm X said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

Local independent publication does still happen, and we should all appreciate and use it. And by the way, that includes the magazine you’re reading now.

alt-sheff.org

 

HUMAN ENERGY
Thu 5 Jul | 7pm | RegatherA screening of the recent documentary Human Energy by Adam Dzienis, which reveals how community groups can fundamentally change how energy is produced and consumed, literally taking the power back. The documentary has been a finalist in film festivals. Bar open from 7pm, film at 7:30pm. Note, it’s upstairs, but Regather unfortunately has no wheelchair access.
regather.net/whats-on

SHEFFIELD PRIDE
Sat 28 Jul | Endcliffe Park

The annual festival and parade returns to celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, non-binary and trans life. It welcomes friends, family and everyone to join in the fun and solidarity for the millions still oppressed. The main event is free and open to all ages. See the website for full details.
pridesheffield.org

Art: Geo Law, issue #119

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