A regional daily editor has hit out at local authorities on his patch after his reporters were told not to speak directly to councillors.
Peter Barron, who edits The Northern Echo, penned a blog post after three councils in the North East said they wanted journalists to go through their press offices if they wanted comments.
He said the move was “completely unacceptable” and that his reporters had been instructed to carry on contacting councillors about stories directly.
Peter told HTFP he did not want to name the authorities involved but had written the piece to send “a bit of a warning” to them.
He said: “I have just made it clear that that is not what we are going to do. Our reporters have a right to speak to councillors – they are elected people and represent their communities.”
On his blog, Peter also highlights an incident in which a councillor told a reporter to “put your pen down, girl” when he was speaking at a public meeting.
He wrote: “‘Freedom of speech’ is the buzz phrase in the news this week because of the frantic efforts to draw the Leveson proposals on press regulation to some kind of satisfactory conclusion.
“It’s ironic really because there’s never been a time in my 30 years in journalism when so much effort has gone into restricting free speech.
“We’ve noticed a growing trend amongst councils which don’t want our reporters to speak directly to councillors. Yes, that’s right, those people directly elected to speak for their communities.
“Increasingly, councils would prefer us to restrict our conversations to their press offices so that all comments can be managed – controlled. The inference appears to be that councillors aren’t trusted to say the right thing.
“This is, of course, completely unacceptable. It will be a very sad day indeed when local newspapers don’t have direct relationships with councillors. For the record, our reporters are under instruction to carry on calling councillors in pursuit of information and comment.”
He added: “Meanwhile, I’ve also had an instance this week of a councillor telling one of our reporters ‘put your pen down, girl’ when he was speaking at a public meeting.
“Again for the record, when politicians – MPs or councillors – speak openly at public forums, they should expect to be quoted. If they don’t want to be, they shouldn’t speak. That’s how it works.”
Peter’s comments follow a Twitter row broke out last month when a councillor in Brighton told Argus political correspondent Tim Ridgway he “disliked” being asked for comments after meetings.