Friday, September 26, 2008

Cabot Circus Shows Us That We are Now the Real Media

I was going to title this article 'Bread and Cabot Circuses' but the excellent Evening Post Watch website go there first. This is a key moment in the landscape of Bristol - remember this day - not for the opening of another unimaginative shopping centre - but the moment the free press overtook the corporate press as the real purveyors of news in the city. It has been coming for some time. Huge stories such as the trial of the Fairford Five, or the inability of the local press to cover the National Union of Journalists action at the evening pest, have been unreported locally. The Daily-Mail come "and-finally..." quality of much of the local news output and now descended to the point where they serve little purpose other than to re-wrap press releases, not journalism but churnalism. Sure, a major development like Cabot Circus needs covering, but the slavish it's-all-good nature of the coverage leaves no room for journalism - i.e. finding the real stories. I have no doubt there are journalists who would like to investigate what is happening, but commercial consideration seems to be number one, two and three here. This is why this is an important day, because for real news - the watershed has been crossed. We are now the news and they are PR machines.

I don't make this claim lightly but look at a few of what the press has been doing;

Green Bristol Blog: "Bristolians are being subjected to unprecedented levels of hype in advance of the opening of the new shopping mall at Broadmead, or rather Cabot Circus as all loyal Bristolians must now call it. The Evening Post can barely contain its enthusiasm for this £500 million development, complete with car parking for over 2,600 cars, due to open its doors in just a week's time."

Evening Post Watch; "So, the love affair with our new shopping centre Cabot Circus continues ahead of Wednesday and Thursday’s openings; no surprise there. And whilst ordinary Bristolians face rising food prices, pay cuts, huge fuel bills, house repossessions and job loses, the Post uses another front page to promote a shop for the rich."

Bristol Blogger; "Yes, that’s right. Our local public service broadcaster who, according to their own portentous editorial principles, must not endorse or appear to endorse any other organisation, its products, activities or services and should not give undue prominence to commercial products or services, appears to be brazenly promoting Harvey Nichols and a load of corporate brands on their website."

Crunch Cabot on Bristol Indymedia; "This rupture with the Alliance’s image and ethos – where ‘retail therapy’ has replaced community contact and our social interactions are increasingly channeled through monetary transactions and materialist consumption – serves as an exclamation. This is a call for further and sustained action against this odious symbol of aggressive global capitalism and the gentrification that is seeping into our city."

And what of the real stories the so-called 'local media' has missed? Yes the free press steps in to tell us the truth behind the PR;

How great is the new development? "What neither of these sites remember to mention is that around 40 of these so called "new" stores already exist in Bristol, many will simply be moving up the road leaving empty shells in Broadmead and yet more in the Galleries, as yet some of the spaces that will be created still have not been filled. Another issue conveniently neglected is that on the day of the grand opening one third of the new units in Cabot Circus will stand empty as branches will not have moved in and contracts still have not been signed." (George Nonbio on Bristol Indymedia)

What is the real benefit to the local economy? "The priciest item instore is an Alligator Clutch bag, by Kara Ross, at £3,170....The simple fact is that at least £1,000 of the cost of that bag goes straight across the Atlantic to Kara Ross who’s based in New York not Bristol. Another £1,000 goes on Harvey Nichols’ overheads - that’s rent to the Bristol Alliance (from Birmingham), admin costs to run the plc based in London, marketing costs (again all based in London) and salaries across the whole group - most of whom are based in London. Then a small percentage - unlikely to be even 5% - goes to some Bristol-based shop assistants.The remaining £1,000-odd pounds goes directly into the pockets of shareholders who tend to be global corporations." (Bristol Blogger)

And the jobs it creates? "We are told that there are 4000 jobs being created by Cabot Circus and how this is bucking the national trend for job cuts. But we are not told how many jobs will be cut as trade is lost from other shopping districts. We are also not told how many ofEP - Harv Nicks 3 these new jobs are just being transferred from branches closing in other parts of the city. And what kinds of jobs are these? Retail, catering, security, cleaning; some of the lowest paid, least secure jobs going. Minimum wage McJobs. Is this the best our kids, our graduates, our unemployed can expect?" (Evening Post Watch)

What about the impact on existing shops, as has been alluded to? Friends of the Earth found, "About eight independent shops close every day. Small independent shops cannot compete with the big multiples." So what more will Cabot Circus cost us? St Nicks Market? The Farmers Market? Gloucester Road? More? I guess it is down to us ordinary people to answer such questions, 'cos the media ain't working for us any more. They for for them.

PS. But, it's all good - the £500 million development has created 23 units of social housing. So that's ok then? And it's ok for the council to use a full page of it's door-to-door PR paper promoting Cabot Circus AT OUR EXPENSE! Thanks, council!

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