The Hull Daily Mail reports tonight on the £3,283.12 costs of surveys and consultation spent by the East Riding Council on its plans to introduce car parking charges.
However, it is the Editorial Comment in tonight’s Mail that deserves further scrutiny. It suggests that there was no need for the council to go ahead with its consultation roadshows and questionnaires because views had already been expressed by the 35,000 people who signed petitions as part of the Mail’s “Park the Charges” campaign.
While appreciating that the newspaper has struck a popular chord with its campaign, it has to be borne in mind that the Mail set out to convince the council to drop its plans. It was not a neutral campaign to assess views of the public.
It is completely acceptable for the Mail and others to campaign on this issue – such campaigns are the cornerstone of our democracy. Yet we confuse campaigning with consultation at our peril. Large organisations with ample resources to spend have the power to influence, persuade, affect decisions and change policies. It would be wrong for those organisations, especially media giants, to substitute their campaigns for legitimate decision-making.
Why bother with consultation, community involvement and engagement, when all you really need is the Mail to back a point of view in order to get it accepted. I think it’s a really bad day for democracy when the media seems to be determining policy. Where’s it all going to end? Will the Mail back particular politicians or parties during elections next? Will it utilise its resources to convince people to vote in a particular way?
We need to defend the freedom of the press to report on events and current affairs – but perhaps we need to worry when the press begins to create the news headlines and even becomes the news itself!?