The row over a regional daily reporter who was apparently ‘banned’ from speaking to a council press office has taken a new twist after a ‘bizarre U-turn’ by the authority.
HTFP reported yesterday how Paul Geater, local government correspondent for Ipswich daily the Evening Star, was told he would be issued with a blanket ‘no comment’ by a senior press officer at Suffolk County Council.
But the authority has now denied the ban ever existed and said his enquiries would be dealt with by the communications team as usual.
The row, dubbed ‘Geatergate’ by the paper, came about after Paul wrote an exclusive story about the council spending more than £12,000 on coaching sessions for its chief executive Andrea Hill, which was followed up by the national press.
Simon Higgins, the council’s head of communications told the paper: “Paul is not banned, I have been disappointed in the line he continually takes and his failure to engage with and understand the issues.
“However he is not banned from Endeavour House, we have not stipulated no comment from now on and we will deal with his enquiries as appropriate.”
The paper published a double-page spread on the U-turn yesterday including an open letter from council leader Jeremy Pembroke, who said the story about the ban was not correct and stressed the importance of the council working with the media.
In response, Paul said: “I didn’t say they said I’d been banned from Endeavour House.
“The county council, in a very clear conversation I had with senior press officer Andrew St Ledger, told me quite categorically that any further requests for information would elicit a ‘no comment’.
“It was made clear to me by Mr St Ledger that this was personal to me. It did not affect other journalists working for the Evening Star and East Anglian Daily Times.
“The conversation was seared on my brain because I have never had anything like this happen before in nearly 30 years of working in journalism and I made notes from it soon afterwards – after I had reported it to the editors of both of the newspapers I write for.
“I am astonished by this statement – which I see comes from head of communications Simon Higgins, not Mr St Ledger, but I am delighted if it means they will continue to deal with me on a query-by-query basis.”
Evening Star editor Nigel Pickover added: “I’m pleased the county council has seen sense, but why Paul Geater was told he was banned from getting comments is beyond me.”