That Gary deliberately slanted his story for maximum impact is clear. It's what journalists do. Did he and his colleagues though really intend to unleash a true patriots versus foreigners, us and them crusade against dissident town and county councillor Liz Harvey?
Comparing Liz Harvey's words with the way it was reported reveals significant discrepancies. Other elements of the story from the brief Town Council discussion were also left out.
In the Ledbury Reporter's extensive coverage, five times the word "foreign" was used in the front page splash and related features, even though Liz Harvey did not utter that word once in her brief address to Ledbury Town Council. This is what Mr Bills-Geddes said in the opening sentence of the story: 'A councillor has voted against red, white and blue... because she fears it will upset foreign visitors.' In a photo caption of Bob Barnes the paper said: 'Cllr Liz Harvey claims the patriotic colours could 'unsettle' foreign visitors to the town.' In an editorial, it twice uses the phrase 'unsettle foreign visitors'. There is a What You Say piece; this too opens with the 'unsettling foreign visitors' phrase.
Why did the Reporter keep repeating that phrase 'foreign visitors'? Was it designed as a dog whistle to whip up chauvinistic, even racist sentiments?
It worked. Small wonder that the baying mob on Voice of Ledbury said that 'foreign visitors' can go jog on, or less polite words to that effect. The flotsam and jetsam of the fascist fringe are so outraged, they plan to demonstrate in Ledbury.
When a 'social media frenzy' (the Reporter's words) takes place, it's advisable to check the evidence. What Cllr Harvey actually said was: 'There were quite a few poets who came from Ireland who were on the [Poetry Festival] programme. They were really quite unnerved by the red white and blue and actually wondered whether they’d walked into a sort of National Front area because they were used to that in Ireland.'
She went on: 'I like the idea of bunting but ... it might be an opportunity to get some brightly coloured bunting that would look lovely in the middle of town but wouldn’t make people unsettled who come here as visitors'. She was responding to a suggestion from Mayor Annette Crowe that the union jack bunting be left up all summer.
From these off the cuff remarks, clearly unacceptable in these days of intolerant jingoism, Liz Harvey has been turned into a right wing hate figure, pilloried and threatened online, and now, outrageously according to Mrs Crowe, the cause of the potential fascist demonstration.
The Ledbury Reporter was also very selective in its commentary of the ensuing Council discussion. Cllr Tony Bradford, who normally gets full coverage, spoke out strongly against buying bunting for the Queen and said the money should be spent making a donation to the Ledbury Food Bank. At the other end of the argument, Cllr Jayne Roberts made what appeared to be a typically incoherent racist-xenophobic comment: 'Unfortunately', she said, 'the Moslems that come and visit us, the Irish that come and visit us... I'm afraid, it's our Queen...' When the vote came to buy red, white and blue bunting, seven councillors either voted against or abstained, including the Deputy Mayor, Keith Francis. This was over a third of the Council.
None of these 'facts' were reported, just Liz Harvey's words and vote. So much for balanced reporting.
By the time the tabloids had the story, it had been mangled into a loonie left councillor wanting to 'BAN' the flag for the Queen's birthday. A flower seller and barman, quite clearly fictional creations, were quoted in the piece.
One of the few balanced reactions to this hot-air balloon of political puff came from a contributor to the Facebook 'Voice of Ledbury' discussion (itself instigated by Mr Bills-Geddes). He said:
'I cannot believe the negativity directed toward one person who said so little, based upon a few published words from one person who should have known better.
'I believe that Gary Bills has caused quite the little race-storm, resulting in a public witch-hint against Cllr Harvey by not just writing an article so everyone could read what she said, but also publishing her picture, so everyone could now SEE who said it. Well done. Great job.
'Being a journalist (and I'm guessing a fairly intelligent person), I am convinced that he must have known that the reaction to his article would end like it has - with VOL going all "if they don't like it here they should just go home" and all that uneducated garbage. To me, this is really bad form.
'Whilst I understand that Cllr Harvey may possibly regret saying what she did, it was only (as I understand it) in reaction to a couple of Irish visitors, who inquired as to the nature of the blue/white/red coloured flags.
'Now, in certain parts of Ireland those colours are considered pretty political, so I can totally understand why they asked, and why she put it to the council.'
This gentleman might understand why, in a democratic country, people are permitted to put alternative points of view, but clearly our friends in the media do not.
We have been warned. When it comes to the flag, Liz Harvey is correct: it is indubitably used as a symbol of far right resistance. It also seems these days that we may not question the wisdom of patriotic-nationalist imagery festooning our streets on pain of a reactionary backlash, led by the local paper.
You keep your mouth shut and your head down. Here's to the future! To democracy and free-speech! Not.