Greenwich Olympics propaganda war goes on
It’s been a quiet week, not much happening, it’s been raining and The Greenwich Phantom beat me to the Only Fools and Horses stuff. But you can always rely on Greenwich Council’s propaganda weekly Greenwich Time to come up with the goods…
Brilliantly, you can now read Council Pravda online, so people across the country can now gawp at just what a load of shameless self-publicity it is. This week is a classic – an Olympics special! The lead is what purports to be a report from the Blackheath Halls meeting two weeks ago which Westcombe Society chairman Gordon Baker barred me from entering on the grounds that journalists weren’t allowed. Interesting.
“Local people were the first to hear of updated plans for the hosting of equestrian and modern pentathalon events at ‘stunning’ Greenwich Park in 2012,” it begins. Well, only if they’d “paid their subscriptions”, according to the Westcombe Society’s Gordon Baker.
But the byline-free front page story contains nothing more than what was in the press release Olympic organisers LOCOG issued two days after the meeting (not available on LOCOG’s website, but I’ve uploaded a copy here.) So was GT there? There’s no reaction from anyone there, no attempt to see what local protesters think. Indeed, Gordon Baker told me there were no journalists at all. (The Mercury carried a decent report last week, which looks like it was written after the event – the News Shopper didn’t, although it did run something about a safety barrier going up for the Woolwich shooting.)
Is it Greenwich Council’s job to act as a cheerleader for the London 2012? In some respects, it is because the Olympics will hopefully attract prestige and investment into the borough.
But when dealing with its residents, Greenwich Council’s job surely is to safeguard their interests, to ensure that the area will not be damaged by the games, to explain to people just what they can expect in the summer of 2012, and to make sure the value of holding the Olympics is worth the undoubted inconvenience it will cause. With blatant propaganda like this, the council is failing on all of those points.
We know those who paid to be members of the Blackheath Society, Westcombe Society and Greenwich Society have had a briefing from LOCOG. Greenwich councillors also had a separate briefing the same day. But what about the rest of us? When do we get to meet LOCOG in a hall and discuss things? Or are we only fit to be told edited highlights?
Greenwich Time then rachets up the pro-Olympics heat with a page 3 interview with “respected community champion Judy Smith MBE” – it’s not explained to us why she’s so respected or how she’s a champion and of which community, although it looks like somewhere like Eltham, so we’ll just have to take GT’s word for it. Again. “It’s just as important for the people of Eltham and the south of the borough to have these guarantees about Greenwich Park, because the whole borough uses and enjoys it, not just people from Greenwich.” Well, good to hear it. No comment from people in Lewisham or Blackheath Village who live on the park’s doorstep but don’t live in the borough, mind. Maybe they don’t count?
And then there’s a piece with Greenwich Park’s manager, who’s been a loud advocate of the games all along, and then there’s pieces with local business leaders about the opportunities ahead. Any dissenting voices? Of course not. This is Greenwich Time. Dissent isn’t allowed. And with its newspaper having the widest distribution of any in the area, it’s nothing less than an abuse of power by Greenwich Council.
This is what happens when local media dies – the Mercury a pale shadow of its former self and exiled to Streatham, the News Shopper badly out of touch in Orpington, both hurt by the rise of Greenwich Time – and nobody blows the whistle on this kind of propaganda.
On the other side of the debate, supporters of anti-Olympics pressure group NOGOE haven’t been shy of playing around with the truth either. They’re bound to score a decent amount of publicity for their “ring around the park” on Sunday, and they’re very pleased with their 12,000-strong petition against the equestrian events in the park. But if you didn’t know all the facts about what’ll happen in 2012, and someone came up to you and said A Very Bad Thing will happen to the park, and we all must save it, then of course you’d sign their petition, wouldn’t you? They’ve also released a video – made in August, so it’s dated slightly. But that’s not stopping them…
“None of us know how long the park will be closed for,” someone is seen saying. But we do know how long the park will be closed for in 2012 – four weeks. It is a shame nobody thought to re-edit the video when the facts changed. This does not do their campaign any good.
But on both sides of the Greenwich Olympics debate, facts are the last thing anyone seems to want to deal with. Without a strong, independent local media, and until LOCOG steps up its game in terms of talking to the people of Greenwich, by holding meetings for the public and the press, it’s going to stay that way.
UPDATE 6.30pm: Credit to north-of-the-Thames freesheet The Docklands (which gets a limited run in Greenwich as The Peninsula) for getting LOCOG’s view on NOGOE’s video. “It’s scaremongering as usual,” a spokesperson told reporter Marina Thomas. However, if LOCOG really does want to overcome this, it needs to be a bit more proactive in talking to the people of Greenwich, instead of waiting for journalists to ring them. Because around there, there’s precious few that will do that…