On Friday 20th January a representative of the Peterloo campaign visited the Guardian offices to meet with editor Mr Alan Rusbridger to discuss our concerns.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Rusbridger for that invite and appreciate his willingness to listen to our views, take them on board and hopefully at some stage respond in full to the presentation document we gave him, something he has indicated he will consider doing.
During the meeting we outlined the general concerns of the readers we represented, also contained in the document, to which Mr Rusbridger responded giving his initial views. Views which, unfortunately, did nothing really to alleviate our worries and frustrations and not wanting to get into what he believes would be a ‘slanging match’ with readers, he could not agree to providing readers with a regular open forum where we could place various concerns/questions to the editorial staff. Something which we thought would be a positive direction for the paper and commenters enabling readers to feel they were not being continuously ignored and that their opinions and input as long term readers were of some value. He personally felt we had adequate means to do so on comment pages even though they are never really acknowledged, answered or addresssed which is part and parcel of why readers are frustrated and why we would have valued a more direct line of communication with editorial staff.
However the aim of the Peterloo campaign and our reasons for starting it was to try and get the editor to take note of readers concerns as highlighted in the document which, after managing to secure a meeting with the editor, through our discussion and the delivery of the presentation document we feel we have achieved, all be it with the support of those who wore the avatars and supported it via the comment pages which we are forever grateful for.
As for the future of the campaign we hope people will continue to wear the Peterloo avatars to remind the Guardian of its roots and the fact that it emerged out of the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre as a means to provide a voice for the voiceless. Something we feel it is turning its back on and is sadly not so much the case today as the paper seemingly appears to continue its backing of the Liberal Democrats, and therefore indirectly the coalition government too as is clearly evident in some of its editorials. We would prefer the Guardian to take an independent stance instead and to start to directly question this government more whilst making them more accountable for their actions instead of merely reporting facts with that underlying support still evident.
In the meantime if you would like to continue to register your dissatisfaction with the Guardian’s editorial stance and other matters please feel free to wear the avatar, which are located at the bottom of this page ready to upload, and join with us in making your views known on the comment pages of the Guardian.
The presentation document detailing our concerns and requests is below for your information and we hope Mr Rusbridger will respond to it on the pages of the Guardian and will now leave that option open to him.
Again many thanks to those who supported the campaign and everyone who hopefully will continue to speak out and if they so wish wear the avatars too.
We can but persevere.
The Peterloo Avatar campaign
Presentation to Alan Rusbridger , January 20th 2012
The Manchester Guardian was formed in 1821 in the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre, to campaign for social justice, liberty, human rights against a background of economic and political crisis, social upheaval and popular mass movements for radical and essential political reform.
The Peterloo Avatar campaign, supported by hundreds of Guardian readers online since last year, aims to act as a constant reminder to Guardian editorial staff of that tradition and history. In the modern age of interactive media, there are many people from the other side of the political spectrum who are determined to influence and intimidate your journalists by sheer numbers and volume if not argument, and drag our newspaper ever further to the right, neutralising opposition and dissent. We have also detected a drift to the right in the editorial positions of the paper, and as proud and (mostly) lifelong Guardian readers, we are determined to speak out against this.
Political positioning of the Guardian
We are living through a time of cuts and austerity that is unparalleled in living memory. Many Guardian readers are personally fearful, angry and desperate. When the Guardian gave its support to the Liberal Democrats before the general election, it was on the basis of their broadly centre-left manifesto pledges. Since the election, the Liberal Democrats have enabled a coalition government to enact policies which bear little resemblance to their manifesto and which has no real democratic mandate. Many Guardian readers who voted Lib-Dem as an opposition to the Conservatives feel betrayed and cheated. This does not appear to be reflected in the editorial stance of our newspaper. There has been no clear message to say that the Guardian has rescinded its support for the Liberal Democrats or, by association, the coalition government.
While recognising and welcoming the Guardian’s policy of providing a platform to diverse voices and stances across the political spectrum, as Guardian readers we believe the paper’s editorial line, expressed through leader columns and commissioning policies, should be unequivocally opposed to the coalition government. The newspaper formed to support Chartism and repeal of the Corn Laws should offer no succour or respite to a government which has shown itself committed to austerity and authoritarianism for the poor and liberalism and financial benefits for the rich.
Engagement with the privatisation of our welfare state
Perhaps the most frequently expressed concerns of Guardian readers online relate to the paper’s relationship with companies which are richly rewarded to deliver the most savage and unjust attacks on the poor and vulnerable. This began to be noticed several years ago, under the previous Labour administration, with the introduction of the Work Capability Assessments for Incapacity Benefit, delivered by Atos Origin. It quickly became obvious to many Guardian readers that this system was producing huge numbers of dreadful injustices, casting many sick and disabled people into severe stress and financial penury, even leading directly to several suicides. Many of us felt, then and now, that this is a national scandal and we have been perplexed by the Guardian’s reluctance to afford this issue the attention it deserves. While appreciating the reporting of Amelia Gentleman and a few opinion pieces by Zoe Williams and other columnists, we are appalled that this issue has never been considered front page news.
The recent debate around reform of disability benefits followed a similar trend. While coverage from opinion columnists and the Society pages was excellent, the parliamentary coverage by lobby correspondents and political insiders followed a very different pattern – often relaying government spin and propaganda without challenging or checking supposedly factual claims.
Our concerns were best illustrated by the Guardian’s decision last year to provide advertorial for Unum Provident, a company with corporate links to Atos and specialising in the provision of private social security insurance. This industry presents a clear and profound threat to the very existence of a universal welfare state. In entering such a business relationship, we believe the Guardian seriously compromised its integrity as an independent voice on the liberal-left.
There are similar concerns about the tendency of Guardian editors, both online and in the paper edition, to run pieces with by authors with strong or commercial links to Conservative think tanks and corporate lobbyists, without clearly identifying the associations of the author. On numerous occasions it has only been the diligent attention of readers, and their comments left online, which has brought such connections to light. We would welcome much stronger application of the Guardian’s guidelines on declaration of interest.
We urge the Guardian to urgently review its own ethical and commercial guidelines and be transparent about what sorts of companies it will work with in partnership. We also request that the Guardian asserts itself unequivocally, through words and deeds, as a champion of social justice and universal welfare and not become a mercenary of corporate interests by commission or omission.
Accountability, transparency and responsiveness
The electronic age has revolutionised the relationship between all newspapers and their readership. We applaud the enthusiasm with which the Guardian has embraced interactive technology and digital content, which have brought the newspaper and its staff closer to the readership than ever before. That closeness, however, has served to highlight several areas in which the paper fails to engage and respect its own core readership.
It seems apparent to many of us that the Guardian website is reluctant to embrace or acknowledge criticism of the paper, especially from the left. This was particularly obvious during the Unum Provident partnership mentioned above, where polite and well-reasoned objections to the content (and the company providing it) were deleted mercilessly, giving a strong impression that the Guardian cared more about the reactions of its corporate partner than of its readership. It also raised questions about the Guardian’s true commitment to free speech and opinion.
In more general terms, this is also a recurring concern across the political sections of the website, where it often seems that the moderation team are much quicker to stifle critical voices from the left than from the right. Ironically, this has had the purpose of removing or alienating many liberal/ left-leaning voices from the comments section, making it easier for viciously right-wing commenters and “trolls” to create a hostile atmosphere that is far removed from the traditions of the Guardian.
We would welcome efforts by the Guardian to review its approach to moderation of the online community. Furthermore, we believe it would be extremely helpful if the Guardian online would introduce a regular (eg monthly?) opportunity for reader engagement and feedback. This could take the form of an open thread (with Q&As) where the editor or senior section editors could address criticism, concern and questions about the types of issues we have raised above and many others. We recognise that this would attract some ya-boo hostility from the opposite side of the political spectrum, but we do not believe it would be beyond the wit of Guardian editors to pick out and focus upon sincere constructive criticism from the newspaper’s true and loyal readership.
That was the document presented to Mr Rusbridger. Hopefully he will respond to it on the pages of the Guardian but that decision now lies with him. The ball, as they say, is now in his court.
How to use these
- right click on the image of your choice and save it to your computer – got to your CiF profile click Edit Avatar (under your existing one) – click on the browse button and in the area marked “Upload an avatar” and navigate to the file you downloaded, select it and click “upload”
and that’s it – it won’t show up immediately but just be patient.