Tory-run Thurrock Council has launched a new communication strategy which has been branded by opposition councillors have branded as “like something out of North Korea.”
It includes a clause that journalists who do not sign up to an approved regulator will be barred from the press bench, as will those who fail to ensure right of reply or “reflect the council’s position accurately.”
The council says failure to adhere to the rules will mean “the council will not engage and recognise the organisation and/or journalist as “media” for a period of time determined by the council.”
But council deputy leader Shane Hebb, above left, has defended its position.
He told hyperlocal website Your Thurrock: “Thurrock Council agreed a communications strategy at Cabinet [on 5 April]. The council recognises the important role the media play in informing the public and in communicating with residents and other stakeholders.
“Thurrock Council is a half-billion pound organisation and as such, has a duty to convey its messages fairly and quickly to residents, to be held to account and inform people about decisions which are being taken, in a way they want to receive it which is increasingly via digital means.”
“The council actively encourages the attendance of residents, partners and the media at public council meetings, enabling filming, social media commentary and reporting.
“Thurrock Council does not vet people who attend public meetings. The new strategy is simply clarifying how the council will communicate to residents as well as how it works with recognised media organisations, and how the council expects media organisations to work with us in return.”
The controversial clause reads: “Should a media outlet, or one of its journalists, fail to adhere to the regulator’s code and in particular not reflect the council’s position accurately ensuring a ‘right of reply’, the council will not engage and recognise that organisation and/or journalist as ‘media’ for a period of time determined by the council.”
But acording to Your Thurrock, opposition UKIP and Labour councillors, have pledged to fight the new rules.
UKIP’s communications Spokesman Cllr Jack Duffin said: “The Council’s new communication strategy laid out at [5 April’s] cabinet meeting looks like it has been modelled on something akin to North Korea.
“It says that if journalists write anything other than glowing praise for the Council then they will ban them. We need an independent and free media to scrutinise the way the council operates. I hope they see the light and reverse their decision.”
Thurrock Labour leader Cllr John Kent added: “This is nothing more than a thinly veiled attack on the press and seriously threatens free speech.
“It runs alongside increasing frustrations by my fellow councillors and members of the public in getting answers from the council. We will be fighting this.”