A Sign of The Times

In a country where its Prime Minister is a serial liar, not telling the truth is no longer a BIG thing, writes Neil Wilby.

Likewise, in Greater Manchester, where the Mayor, Andy Burnham, is caught out, by his critics, decorating the truth with troubling frequency, particularly over his grotesque failure to hold the region’s chief constable to account.

At the eastern edge of that same region sits Mossley, the former West Riding mill town turned upmarket commuter haven, nestling against the Pennine hills. Its most infamous resident also tells lies. Lots of them. Big fat ones. Persistently and mendaciously. Almost every time he pens a post on Facebook or transmits his ludicrous weekend Recusant Nine podcast.

To the extent that a self-styled political activist, Raja Miah, about which much is written elsewhere on this website, is seeking to make an industry of it: The more outrageous the fabrication, the greater the amount of money he hopes to extract from his ‘supporters’.

A business model that failed to impress Facebook, whom have recently banned him from monetising his depressingly makeshift content on their social media platform. Another giant network, the Google-owned YouTube, is also currently reviewing his discredited output on the the same basis (read more here). The two most recent Miah podcasts have been removed from their channel as a result of defamation complaints.

His divisive hatred, directed towards sections of Asian communities under an opaque veil of ‘exposing’ grooming and organised crime gangs, without, it seems, the necessary credible, original evidence, has particular appeal to the notorious far-right element in the neighbouring Borough of Oldham (read more here).

Lie after lie was forensically unpicked in that lengthy piece of investigative journalism, and fatally undermined Miah’s credibility across large tracts of the population in the East Lancashire mill town, and beyond. The article also enraged the far-right knuckleheads who rely on Raja as their totem.

The latest Miah hobby horse is an attack on the Oldham Times, one of the two main print media outlets in the town. The other is the Oldham Evening Chronicle. Both have seen better days, as the rot that beset the regional newspaper industry over ten years ago now looks terminal in an increasing number of cases.

The Times is  controlled by Newsquest Media Group Ltd and ultimately owned by Gannett Co, Inc based in the United States of America. The Evening Chronicle is controlled by Credible Media Ltd and run by local man, Matthew Ramsbottom.

By coincidence, the author of this piece is a former area general manager with a predecessor company of Newsquest, Reed Regional Newspapers (a subsidiary of what is now Reed-Elsevier plc). Indeed, the founding chief executive, Jim Brown, was a highly valued mentor, as well as a newspaper industry icon.

Bucking the trend of consolidation or closure, the Times recently moved from weekly to daily publication even though its front pages routinely have the look of a 1990’s free-sheet and the rest of the newspaper appears thin on original worthwhile content.

The source of the latest Miah angst is a lead story, run by the Times on its website, featuring the newly launched election campaign of Cllr Sean Fielding. He is defending a seat in Failsworth West that he has held since 2012. He was elected as Council Leader in 2018, due, in part at least, to being personable, approachable, highly articulate and PR savvy. The university education his working class parents fought so hard for was not entirely wasted, even though he was unable to follow his chosen career path of civil engineering.

Cllr Fielding is one of a number of Labour Party figures in the Oldham area that are under relentless attack from the Miah cohort (read more here).

The Miah response to the home page splash in the Times was surprising, even by his own low standards: On his Recusant Nine page on Facebook he began to repeat the allegation, or imputation, that there was an improper relationship between the Council and the newspaper. He singles out Cllr Fielding and the newspaper’s chief reporter, Nick Jackson, for the usual highly personalised, derogatory, baseless attack. Grounded in the ludicrous assertion that large sums of money change hands and these furtive transfers provide leverage for the council, through its leader, to dictate, or skew, the newspaper’s content.

Nick Jackson’s ‘sin’ is, seemingly, not providing coverage of the Recusant Nine output. Much, if not all of it, lacking an evidential basis to the standard that would withstand a newspaper lawyer’s scrutiny.

His criticism is worded in such a way, some might say deliberately, that the reader might infer that it was taxpayers money that funded, in part at least, the transition from weekly to daily newspaper. There was also a puzzling reference as to what Miah’s claimed ‘sources’ had ‘uncovered so far’ about the alleged financial machinations.

To a journalist, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is an important gateway to disclosure from public authorities and the seed from which many stories are cultivated – and so it proved in this particular case: A request was submitted to Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council and the information subsequently provided was, indeed, surprising (read here).

The finalisation of the FOIA request reveals that the amount spent by Oldham Council with the Oldham Times on advertising is much less than anticipated. Less unexpectedly, there is no financial investment at all. Other enquiries revealed that the Council actually spends more on advertising with the Manchester Evening News.

A senior council spokesman said: “All of the identified spend is for advertising in some form. In the 2020/21 financial year, the overwhelming majority of this advertising spend was related to Coronavirus; for example to raise awareness of public health messages and to encourage people to follow the hands, face, space 
guidance.

“The amount of money spent with local media companies has significantly 
reduced in recent years, in line with the overall reduction of Council 
budgets.

“The majority of the money spent with these companies is on public notices 
– such as planning applications and highways notices – which councils have 
a legal obligation to publish.

“Oldham Council used to publish these notices with the Oldham Chronicle
prior to the daily print edition ceasing in 2017. We now publish these 
notices with the Manchester Evening News, which is owned by Reach plc”.

Interestingly, in June, 2020, the Chronicle made a public appeal to the Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham. In an open letter to the Mayor, the owner of the newspaper, Matthew Ramsbottom, said local media organisations need specialist support, particularly at this difficult time, in ensuring that they not only survive, but thrive against the backdrop of faceless big-business (presumably referencing Newsquest and Reach).

For reasons that are unclear, the Chronicle appear, at least in the recent past, to have escaped the Miah vitriol.

Complaints by Raja, to IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation) against the Manchester Evening News, resulted in humiliation (read here). They concerned the newspaper’s extensive coverage of the grotesquely failed free schools run by him (read here). The journalist by-lined in that piece, Jennifer Williams, has been subjected to a campaign of harassment on the Recusant Nine platform, ever since.

So, it has come to pass that yet another Raja fallacy has been comprehensively shredded. With remarkably little effort, and by means open to Miah himself, if he was actually interested in backing up his accusations with facts and evidence.

UPDATE: Thirteen hours after this article was published, Miah posted on the Recusant Nine page on Facebook: “As for questionable transactions. Anyone want to spend £1 million on the local press?”. Inferring, yet again, that there is large scale financial impropriety on the part of Oldham Council.

Why let facts get in the way of smearing your political opponents? This is an unremarkable analysis, disclosed by the Council under the Freedom of Information Act, of total amounts spent with the Oldham Times, Oldham Chronicle and Manchester Evening News broken down by year back to 2011/12 (read in full here). It in no way supports any conspiracy theory about undue council, or councillor, influence over the local press. To those who are adjacent to such matters, and the author of this piece is a former area managing director for Johnston Press, the amounts are surprisingly modest.

Page last updated: Saturday 10th April, 2021 at 1055 hours

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

Picture credit: Oldham Times

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: