In a blog post on Your Thurrock, the leader of the Thurrock Independents, Cllr. Luke Spillman, has taken Thurrock Council to task over the chilling impact of their media strategy: Blogpost: Thurrock Independents leader calls for council to “rethink press strategy”. Thurrock Council released this ‘media strategy’ document in the summer of 2017 – it pretty much demands a right of reply to any media coverage it thinks will be damaging to its reputation.

Reading between the lines, it’s as though the council just want the local media outlets to reproduce, word for word, the anodyne contents of their press releases. Given the parlous state of local journalism and the chronic under-staffing that characterises it, that’s pretty much what many local media outlets are reduced to doing anyway. What the council’s media strategy does is to reinforce that trend by discouraging the few journalists left who do ask difficult questions from doing so for fear of being all but ‘blacklisted’. In other words, the council want to control the narrative.

This defensive and aggressive posture from Thurrock Council towards journalists who rightly persist in asking them difficult questions has a number of parallels with the experience of residents who’ve had less than satisfactory dealings with them. We’ve written this before in relation to other local authorities in the area but it looks as though we’re doomed to repeat it until the message starts to sink in. We may be naïvely idealistic but the role of a local council, officers and councillors alike, is to serve all of the residents in the area they cover. If a council are to be the servants of the people, nothing less than complete and open transparency and accountability is required. That also means being open to criticism from the local media and responding to that in a constructive manner by learning lessons and improving performance.

Alas, we live in a world that’s far from ideal. All this crap from Thurrock Council about their ‘media strategy’ does is reinforce the view we hold that the system of local and national governance we endure is not fit for purpose because it doesn’t serve our interests. While we welcome the pressure the Thurrock Independents have brought upon the council to agree to editors from the local media being able to speak at the upcoming Corporate Overview & Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday 4th September, with the best will in the world, this may be akin to trying to put a small sticking plaster over a gaping wound. If we are ever going to have a more just, open and accountable way of running our affairs at a local level, fundamental political, economic and social change will be the only way to achieve this.