CARMARTHENSHIRE county council has moved to dismiss the front-page story in last week’s Guardian regarding the authority’s decision to withdraw advertising from the paper.
In a lengthy statement, the authority described claims it had enforced a blackout on the paper as “nonsense”.
However, figures show throughout 2012 the council placed, on average, 10 adverts or public notices in the Guardian every month.
Following publication of the September 19 comment, the authority has placed no adverts or public notices in the paper whatsoever – other than those booked prior to September 19.
The move has meant vital traffic notices – which the council is legally bound to advertise as extensively as possible – have not been seen as widely in the effected areas as they should have been.
Changes to Christmas refuse collections appeared in the Guardian’s rival newspapers two weeks ago. This year, the Guardian has received no such notice, despite it appearing on these pages every year previously.
The council has claimed this to be a purely commercial decision, quoting Carmarthenshire newspapers’ circulation figures to support the view. However, the figures are misleading.
The authority claims 36 per cent of people in Carmarthenshire “gained information” from the Carmarthen Journal while only 11 per cent looked to the Guardian.
These figures ignore the fact that the Guardian is not aimed at – or available in - the whole of the county. The latest audited circulation figures show that in Ammanford and the surrounding area almost 31 per cent of people read the Guardian, compared to Journal’s 21 per cent. Seven percent read the Llanelli Star while six-and-a-half per cent read the Western Mail.
The figures prove that the Guardian reaches 45 per cent more Ammanford residents than the Carmarthen Journal.
While the Guardian has no desire to publish items relevant only to towns outside its area, at least four important traffic notices relating to key roads around Ammanford have been placed in papers read by only one in five town residents since the beginning of October. This despite the council being legally obliged to ensure those notices are distributed as widely as possible to the people affected.
These facts completely undermine claims that the advertising shutdown was a commercial decision.
The Guardian can also now confirm that the authority withdrew advertising in July for non-commercial reasons.
In an e-mail mistakenly forwarded to the Guardian by council staff at the time, the authority’s press manager Debbie Williams ordered colleagues to pull advertising following a Guardian story describing town council fears that the Quay Street regeneration works would not be completed by Christmas.
“Due to the continuing negative publicity by the Guardian,” she said. “I do not think we should be placing adverts with them until this issue is resolved. Please could you cancel the ad Diane had planned in the meantime.”
That comment leaves little doubt that the decision was not a commercial one.