Regional Press Suffer Over SCU Controversy

It appears that other, more resource-rich elements of the media, in addition to some in the Opposition, have used the controversy around the Government’s Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) to curtail other Government advertising in the regional press.
While watching television news reports on Tuesday last, one couldn’t help but conclude that some political parties appeared to resent that regional newspapers had received monies for carrying the ‘Project Ireland 2040′ advertorials. The fact that national publications also ran these editorials gained little if any traction.
The coverage of the SCU and the advertorials was primarily led by an Irish edition of a UK-based newspaper which was not part of the ‘Project Ireland 2040′ campaign, while RTE, whose management has made repeated overtones in relation to additional State funding, also took a heavy line on the issue.
It would appear that the standpoint projected by the harshest critics of the SCU and the advertorial campaign is that regional newspapers should only run free editorial for a range of Government projects and announcements.
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This flies in the face of the fact, a fact which is part of any media body’s business model, that the national press, RTE and independently owned broadcaster frequently run paid advertisements with the imprimatur of Government.
Regional newspapers have been lobbying for additional public notices/advertising for many years. This is as true and valid a practice as it is a long-established means of generating income.
Over the past decade in particular, press officers working for a range of Government departments and State agencies have been issuing press releases that, on occasion, do not carry a great level of public import or relevance.

Rather than buy some advertising space, the onus has been increasingly placed on regional media to carry the copy in a cap-doffing type manner. If a Government wishes to see some more coverage devoted to them, more enticingly written statements, in addition to a commitment to advertise, would be most welcome on our behalf. Time – and in a newspaper’s perspective – space – is money. And that has always been the case, even though commercial considerations are not necessarily this or any other regional title’s primary box ticker when it comes to delivering news to our readers. But let’s not be naïve here. We have bills to pay too.
In an era where regional newspaper reporting within national titles has been rationalised, the regional press has becoming an increasingly prominent carrier of local authority-themed news. Do we want local authority matters reduced to the ranting of the keyboard warrior class who has no interest in fact-checking or verifying information?

There are a range of public bodies, free of politics, that ought to advertise in a manner in these pages as once they did, such as the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, Breast Check, etc. The promotion of pensions and Social Welfare matters would also benefit from further advertising.
Regional newspapers provide a public service without benefiting from the Licence Fee that funds RTE, so why we have been dragged into a political dogfight is bewildering.
Regional newspapers across the country should certainly not be associated victims of the debacle surrounding the abolition of the Strategic Communications Unit.
TDs of every political hue know the importance of reaching out to constituents via the local press, whom they bombard with press releases.
Yet in Government however, these same TDs do little if anything to use these same newspapers to relay health/welfare information to the public via advertising in what remains one of the country’s most trusted news resources.

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