While Rebecca Focuses On Local Issues, The Echo Gives Its Front Page To Bob

THIS YEAR’S GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN is likely to be remembered by residents as that in which the main party candidates struggled to have their messages heard above Spink’s clamour for attention from the local press.

On Tuesday, the Echo duly obliged – choosing to ignore a national perspective on its Save Canvey Pool campaign that the Conservative candidate, Rebecca Harris, had provided the previous day.

While Rebecca was explaining to the Shadow Justice Secretary, Dominic Grieve, how fears over excessive Health and Safely legislation – and the growing compensation culture – had threatened the future of one of Canvey’s tidal pools; Gail Boland, Spink’s partner, was on the phone to the local police demanding that they arrest Bill Sharp over a ‘public order offence.’

It seems that Bill Sharp had waived an A3 poster of the Conservative candidate at Bob and Gail when they drove past him in their ‘battle-bus’ (proclaiming Bob Spink as an independent) on Sunday.

The two conspirators must have thought long and hard about using the incident when they returned home that night – and made their decision to get the police involved the following morning.

It appears that, to Spink and Boland, waiving Rebecca’s campaign poster at them is equivalent to a traditional English bowman’s salute, which I, and many other residents, may have performed in similar circumstances.

Of course, the Echo had a duty to report the incident – and had they had time they might also have considered the other point that Rebecca was making about a Conservative government: that it would bring an end to the culture of excessive litigation, while, at the same time, giving legal safeguards to those who really need them. But the appropriateness of her remark was apparently lost upon them as they devoted their whole front page, and a page-two column, to their ‘Tory’s arrest after spat with Spink’ leader.

On Wednesday, Sarah Calkin (an Echo staff reporter) decided to take-up space at the top of page-five to throw her own support behind Spink.

Casting around for a theme, she chose to report on UKIP’s support-ad for Spink in the Southend Standard. Bob could not have wished for more. UKIP had paid for the Standard’s advert – and now Calkin was reiterating its statements here (for nothing). She was even good enough to quote him in one of his biggest lies. (Can you spot it?.. Oh, no… There’s another one… Better make it: can you spot them?).

One thing is for sure, Bob Spink is spending a lot of money on his campaign. Unless I have been singled-out for special attention, his campaign literature was delivered to me by second-class post in a white Christmas-card envelope. (All my other candidate literature has been painstakingly delivered by hand to save on costs).

Is there a story here? His glossy A4 literature, which neither the Tories or Labour can match, certainly contains some whoppers – so perhaps he has no choice but to keep the envelopes’ contents concealed from postmen. But I particularly like the way in which he continues to promote his endorsement by John Mann MP.

Peas and a single pod come to mind…

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‘If we are to publish anything, it needs to be a balanced, legally-sound news story’

THE QUOTE IS FROM AN EMAIL, sent by the Echo’s editor Martin McNeil, to Councillor Bill Sharp, refusing to print the local politician’s letter addressing a number of ‘questionable and at worst libellous’ statements being made by our local MP, Bob Spink.

Bill’s letter was an attempt to publicly address the contents of various emails and press releases being disseminated by the MP – which he is unable to do without a public platform.

In his letter, Bill corrects the MP’s version of the ‘facts,’ stated in press releases on his website – aimed at attacking Bill’s political standing in the community and the Conservative Party.

‘I am not, nor ever have been, the Campaign Manager of Rebecca Harris the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate,’ Bill says.

‘The MP [Bob Spink] has made various allegations against me, either in his name or, as he puts it, “on behalf of constituents,” whom he never names.

‘I have not been found guilty of any of the charges he has ever alleged and, indeed, the last allegation was made when I was not even a Councillor and therefore not liable to the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.

‘I am appealing against the various allegations and judgement recently made against me, which resulted in a six-month suspension from my role as a Councillor at Castle Point Borough Council.’

Bill ends by saying: ‘He [Spink] has recently sent an email to his list demanding that the Conservative Party leadership meets him in Castle Point to discuss various matters – most of which seem to relate to me. I would doubt that the leadership would even know me; but, as this is specific to me and my limited role in Castle Point politics, I would welcome the opportunity to debate publicly with this man.

‘This would enable me to state facts that have thus far been hidden – and respond to the allegations he continues to make about me.’

In his email, McNeil provides three reasons for refusing to publish:-

Many readers would not understand the letter without more context being provided.

Spink would demand a right of reply, in which he’d say things you would not like (and might, in turn, demand a right of reply to…)

Bob might attempt to sue for defamation on the basis that you are accusing him of abusing his position as an MP to attack you. The chance of significant damages might be increased if it could be shown that you were writing with malice (ie you have a personal axe to grind).

McNeil ends his reasons with this final statement: ‘If we are to publish anything, it needs to be a balanced, legally-sound news story. I’m sure you are confident everything you have written is true, but I’m afraid the buck stops with me and I’m not in a position to prove the accusations you make in your letter.’

Does McNeil’s argument hold water?..

Well, it is interesting that, in his final statement on the matter, McNeil takes refuge in the legal keep of any newspaper editor: ‘I’m not in a position to prove the accusations you make.’

But for any editor worth their monthly salary, it is that position which is always faced at the beginning of any story. Editors, journalists and reporters are paid to discover the truth and publish it. That is the raison d’être of any newspaper. Maybe the staff at the Echo should get off their butts and start producing some proper journalism.

McNeil says: ‘If we are to publish anything, it needs to be a balanced, legally-sound news story.’ But that is not the case regarding the Echo’s piece headlined: ‘Sorry David Cameron… you can’t hold your election speech here,’ which the Echo has written-up from one of those Spink releases that Bill Sharp is referring to.

In that piece, the newspaper echoes Spink’s spin regarding Cameron being ‘snubbed’ by SEEVIC; but it does not explain that the reason why that college could not accommodate a political meeting is that its Board of Trustees has placed a ban on that establishment being used to hold any political meetings. The ban, it is understood, was put in place to prevent the college from having to accommodate political meetings by the likes of the BNP.

The piece is completely devoid of balance. Indeed, if readers compare the Echo piece with Spink’s press release, it can be seen how the Echo has bent over backwards to ensure Spink’s spin is published – despite their unwillingness to reproduce the MP’s other statements that might prove a legal problem.

McNeil says: ‘Many readers would not understand the letter without more context being provided.’ But is that not the job of a newspaper? It says much of the Echo’s coverage of ‘local news’ that its readers have not been kept informed of the Spink/Sharp issue and would therefore not understand Bill’s letter.

McNeil says: ‘Spink would demand a right of reply, in which he’d say things you would not like (and might, in turn, demand a right of reply to…).’

What inside knowledge does McNeil have that allows him to predict Spink’s response in that way? Besides, any editor knows that controversy sells newspapers. And it is a newspaper’s duty to allow all its readers’ views to be aired. What on earth is the problem of printing a series of ‘right to replies’ in the Letters section or providing an editorial perspective?

Perhaps McNeil’s next statement provides a clue. He says: ‘Bob might attempt to sue for defamation on the basis that you are accusing him of abusing his position as an MP to attack you. The chance of significant damages might be increased if it could be shown that you were writing with malice (ie you have a personal axe to grind).’

It echoes that original statement, made by one of the Echo reporters, in which it was stated that : ‘We have a legal problem when it comes to printing anything about Spink.’

It appears that nothing has changed – and residents still have no option but to read only Spink’s spin in their local newspaper.

Other views, it seems, have no place in the biased Echo’s columns…