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Journalist barred from meeting on councillor’s conduct

A journalist from a weekly paper was barred from a meeting which discussed the conduct of a councillor who posted anti-Islamic comments on his Facebook page.

Reporter Ruth McKee from the Enfield Advertiser was excluded from a conduct committee meeting of Enfield Council last month, despite appealing that it was in the public interest for her to report on it.

The meeting followed revelations published in the Advertiser that councillor Chris Joannides had posted comments and images on his personal Facebook page that were Islamaphobic, leading to his having the Conservative whip withdrawn.

But the council refused to confirm the identity of the councillor whose behaviour was discussed at the meeting.

It is the latest in a string of incidents which have affected access by journalists to council meetings, which has seen the Oxford Mail barred from standards hearings about the conduct of a Lord Mayor.

Ruth said: “The council need to be aware that this whole issue is hugely sensitive and local journalists have to report on this.

“People really want to know about it because they voted for him so the council has to be aware of how they handle this, regarding keeping the borough in the loop.

“People are calling me and asking what happened and I can’t tell them. The council needs to be open with the public.”

At the meeting, Ruth made representations to remain in the meeting, saying she did not believe there were valid criteria for excluding the press and public.

But journalists were told at the time that they were being excluded because it was a data protection issue and a council spokeswoman later said that the press were prevented from reporting the meeting so the investigation was not compromised.

Ruth is now planning to write to the council’s legal department asking for an explanation of why she was barred.

She wrote the story about the councillor’s Facebook postings after printouts of the pages were shown to her and to the Conservative Party.

Mr Joannides has admitted he shared the controversial images and comments on his own Facebook page but he denied he was Islamaphobic and claimed his posts had been “carefully edited” to make him appear that way.

In January, the Oxford Mail was barred from a standards hearing about the conduct of the city’s Lord Mayor Alan Armitage.

The regional daily was last week again banned from an Oxford City Council standards committee which was due to rule on whether he had broken the code of conduct, over alleged innappropriate comments made to a teenage girl.

The Mail argued that it should be allowed to attend but the press and public were excluded on the grounds that the schoolgirl and other witnesses may be identified.


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  • March 4, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    I thought all standards board meetings of councils were held in private?

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  • March 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    The standards board was scrapped at the end of last year.

    This sounds like a council committee which – no doubt on the advice on their official Spin Doktor (all town halls have these unelected but very well-paid commissars these days) – decided in the interests of reputation management that it would be a jolly good thing if the press was banned.

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  • March 4, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    Many are, House Rules particularly the early stages when its mostly legal discussion.

    If they find there is a need to hold a fornal hearing/tribunal type thing where there is a case to answer, then they usually become public.

    The council can vote to exclude,

    but usually that backfires as the results are public, it all comes out anyway and the council’s get the bad pr from looking like they have something to hide.

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