Thursday, 14 April 2011

School parents allege Council censorship

The Parents Alliance for Community Schools is on the war path - they claim that an advert which they had paid a lot of money for and which "celebrated the achievements" of local community schools was pulled from the last edition of propaganda paper H&F News without any warning. 

They allege that this was a decision taken because the Council felt that this would contradict their own line that the controversial new Free Schools they are bringing to H&F are the way forward. The Alliance, I should say, is vehemently against the idea of Free Schools and campaigns to stop them. So they have a political agenda just as much as the Council does.

Here's what the angry Alliance have to say:

PACS worked with H&F News, the Hammersmith and Fulham Council paper, in good faith to place a full page advertisement in the 05 April 2011 Edition. 

Meant to print on the day of primary admissions announcements, the advertisement was intended to thank the parents and children who chose local Hammersmith and Fulham primary schools. We feel it is our parents and children which make our educational communities so rich and the community at large such an interesting, diverse and wonderful place to live. We highlighted the successes of local primary schools, sang the praises of these schools, and asked for everyone to stand up and prioritise celebrating them.

It was timed to coincide with primary school announcements so that those choosing our local schools could be thanked -- and those not realising what our schools offer could be informed.

Despite getting the copy to the paper early, and approving the final draft in time, H&F News did not print our advertisement.

A group of parents wanting to communicate with other parents about very good local schools was not allowed to do so by our local taxpayer funded newspaper.
Why was it not printed? We at PACS have a few questions:
a) Did someone not want to celebrate local schools for some reason?
b) Did someone feel that the view that local schools should be celebrated over free schools is not the right view to present in the paper?
c) Did someone not like the community group putting out the advertisement? Perhaps coincidentally, relatively good amounts of traffic to the website flowed through LBHF servers on the day the decision would have had to be made.
We wrote to H&F News on 06 April and asked why they had not printed the ad.  Despite the rapid decision to not print the advertisement, which must have occurred within several hours of the last communication with the paper, nobody has yet responded to our request.
In the minutes of the recent Cabinet meeting on 21 March, The Leader
'noted that the council was keen to see all schools succeed and parents to have an option to choose local schools. The Council's expectation was for more local children to be educated in local schools'.
Wouldn't such an advertisement have encouraged these aims?
H&F News has made it into notice in the past, and was used as an example by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee Report: Future of local and regional media
'Paragraph 73. There is a real problem with local authority newspapers and magazines that needs to be addressed. While it is clear that most of these publications, such as Portsmouth City Council’s Flagship, are legitimate communications from a council to its citizens, this cannot be said for all local authority publications. Publications such as Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council’s H&F News effectively pose as, and compete with, local commercial newspapers and are misleading to the public. It is unacceptable that a local authority can set up a newspaper in direct competition to the local commercial newspaper in this way. Nor should any council publication be a vehicle for political propaganda.'
This paragraph was reiterated as one of the conclusions of the report.
And in this edition's farewell story, Cllr Greenhalgh himself said that one of the H&F News limitations was that 'it was never able to hold us to account.'
Why not?
Back in July of 2010, when the Free Schools topic first entered the minutes of the 13 July Cabinet Meeting, it was said
'It (H&F Council) could provide a link between parents groups and potential providers, assist parents in assessing demand and help with the provision of sites but not directly sponsor projects. In response to a question from the Chairman, Andrew Christie, Director of Childrens Services, confirmed that there was some commercial and business appetite locally but the ventures would have to remain non profit making.'
If Hammersmith and Fulham Council can provide these links between parents and free schools at taxpayer expense, why can't a small organisation of parents - at no expense to the taxpayer -  provide links between parents and good community schools?

You have to wonder at why on earth they are so surprised that a self-confessed propaganda paper would not take an advert that contradicted the propaganda line of the Council, but this does seem quite cack handed - why did the Council take the money and agree to run the ad in the first place then? It will also be interesting to see whether the Fulham Chronicle, in its new role as chief propagandist for the Council, will also countenance taking such adverts which contradict their paymasters...

19th APRIL UPDATE - where this blog leads, the Chronicle follows - here's their story on it which only came out today. You know where you read it first, folks


  1. Thank you for this article. I have just a couple of points for clarity:

    H&F News didn't take PACS money at the time of the advert - we had just worked hard to get it together on the presumption that payment was required up front - however, when the ad was booked we leaned that (unlike a lot of papers) they took payment by invoice after the printing instead of before.

    PACS is not ideologically opposed to all free schools. PACS opposed one particular free school proposed for our immediate area because, for a lot of reasons, a wide variety of people didn't want it here. The whole 'consultation' was a bit of a mess and encouraged us to look more deeply at the entire process. That process was pretty opaque - but is changing and only time will tell what happens next...

  2. Why was the ad pulled then? Any word from H&F News?

  3. Hello Chris

    I'm not sure why it was not printed. They selected the artwork and did the layout, so I can't see that as a plausible reason for not printing it. The paper confirmed it all again with me on the day of the deadline so I was disappointed to not see it in print. I was confused and initially thought it might have been an error - but neither the paper nor several councillors responded to the question about why it wasn't printed...