A council press office is refusing to speak to a weekly reporter in a row over whether a councillor likened local residents to turkeys.
Medway Messenger journalist Chris Hunter was involved in a dispute with Medway Council’s press office over his reporting of a council tax increase.
He has now been told that he cannot communicate with press officers by phone or in person but can only use email, although the ban does not apply to other journalists in the KM Group.
The dispute came about after the authority announced it was putting up council tax by 1.99pc, therefore avoiding a referendum which would have been needed to increase it by more than 2pc.
When Chris asked finance chief Cllr Alan Jarrett why he had avoided the 2pc rise, he replied that: “The reality is that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas”.
In his article about the council tax rise, Chris wrote: “How much favour Cllr Jarrett will win for likening the average Medway taxpayer to a bird bred en masse for the festive table is yet to be seen.”
But the council’s press office took exception to the analogy and published a lengthy rebuttal of more than 600 words on its own ‘For the Record’ web page, which was set up to hit back at media coverage it does not like.
Messenger editor Bob Bounds has since branded it the strangest complaint to a newspaper he has ever seen.
The council’s news and digital manager John Staples wrote: “If the newspaper thought its interpretation was correct then, if the same logic was applied, it would be fair to assume that if their reporter was told it is ‘raining cats and dogs outside’ they would presumably look out of the window and expect to see cats and dogs actually falling from the sky.
“Similarly, if that person, when making a comparison about something in particular, said it’s ‘like watching paint dry’ then their reporter would presumably assume that the person … had actually previously watched paint drying in order to enable them to make such a contrast. Similar things could be said about counting sheep.
“The council’s press office has asked that the reporter who wrote this story now only communicates with the council by email rather than on the phone or face-to-face.
“The press office has asked for this so it can keep a paper trail of all communication with him in case further inaccuracies are ever reported. The council’s press office is keen to point out that this is not something it will be doing with any other journalist from the KM Group as it finds they are usually fair and accurate in their reporting.”
Bob responded: “I don’t think I’ve ever come across a stranger complaint or reaction. I’ve offered a right of reply but the council prefer to use its grandiose, taxpayer-funded For the Record webpage. I think it’s safe to say we’ve more readers.
“The interpretation was perfectly fair but we accept the council’s right to dispute that. I suspect that Cllr Jarrett regrets using the ‘turkey’ analogy and this is mere back-pedalling.
“In any case it’s a crude assumption on his part that people of Medway would react ‘turkey-like’ if they were given the opportunity to vote for a tax increase to preserve local services.”