The issue of Thurrock Council having a say on who can and can’t report on their council meetings is coming to the fore again: Threat to ban newspapers set be debated at Thurrock Council and will be discussed this coming Thursday (6.7).

It’s these three (paraphrased) proposals which understandably are getting a lot of people riled:
1) Only members of approved press regulators could sit on the press bench. Other news organisations may sit in the public gallery.
2) The council should be given a right of reply in stories that “concern” them.
3) Newspapers whose stories fail to reflect the council’s position may see themselves effectively “banned”.

There are some papers which for various reasons are not members of a specific recognised regulatory body. These include the Financial Times, The Guardian and The Enquirer. Given some of the major developments mooted for this region, it’s not inconceivable that the FT or Guardian might want to send a reporter down to a council meeting if the development is being discussed. We’d love to be a fly on the wall to see the reaction if the council attempted to downgrade their reporters to the public gallery!

As for the council being given a right of reply in stories that ‘concern’ them – fair enough, we’d all like a right of reply when we get misrepresented. As anarchists, we can only dream of that while we have to deal with the shite that’s thrown our way… Given the power Thurrock Council has, demanding a ‘right to reply’ comes over as a not very subtle threat.

As for ‘reflecting’ Thurrock Council’s position, you kind of get the impression that they want media outlets to do nothing more than regurgitate their press releases and lay off asking any difficult questions. As many local papers that are owned by national conglomerates have already stripped their reporting staff to the bone, this is pretty much what happens anyway. It seems to us that Thurrock Council being fully aware of this are using it to seal the deal on local media outlets simply reproducing their press releases and then shutting up. There can be exceptions to this – the recently launched Thurrock Independent being one of them which does have detailed reporting of the goings on at Thurrock Council and appears to be willing to hold them to account.

Fortunately, there is opposition to this from both Labour and UKIP councillors. It’s not in our DNA to agree with UKIP councillors but their one for the Stanford East & Corringham Town ward, Cllr. Jack Duffin, pretty much nailed it when he said this: “I think this council needs to suck it up. The newspapers are not the PR wing of the council. They are here to scrutinise. There have been stories written about UKIP that I am not happy [about] but..tough. Secondly, it seems to me that the council can dish it out but cannot take it. I have had a whole host of inquiries that have not received replies”.

This is an issue that goes beyond party politics – we’d be making exactly the same points if it was a Labour run council proposing restrictions on how the press report their deliberations. In fact, there’s a whole slew of Labour run London councils complicit in social cleansing who need a harsh lesson on being open and honest with their residents! It’s about what should be a basic right to hold local councils to account. We pay for them with our council tax and the least we should expect is that they open themselves up to scrutiny without whining if they get taken to task… In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster when Kensington & Chelsea Council have been arrogantly dismissive to residents who were raising legitimate concerns about fire safety and are being evasive with the media in the aftermath, any council considering restrictions on press reporting need to take a long hard look at themselves…