A regional daily editor has branded a council a “disgrace” for refusing to allow its members to be named by his newspaper at a public meeting.
Cambridge News editor David Bartlett, left, has criticised Stapleford Parish Council, in Cambridgeshire, for holding an emergency meeting under the ‘Chatham House Rule’ – an anonymity agreement that does not legally apply to such proceedings.
Under the rule, which is usually used as a system for holding debates on controversial issues, information disclosed during a meeting may be reported by those present, but the source of that information may not be explicitly or implicitly identified.
Reporter Tara Cox had turned up to cover the meeting, which was called after around 40 traveller families set up camp on the village’s recreation ground and subsequently left a mess on the site.
But, upon Tara’s arrival, the council claimed the meeting would be conducted under the Chatham House Rule.
She subsequently live blogged proceedings with none of the 70 people present named in the piece.
After the meeting, David wrote an open letter to readers explaining what had happened.
In the letter, he said: “We fully appreciate that members of the local community may not want their name on the Cambridge News website or in our print edition, and indeed at the meeting would have been under no obligation to identify themselves at the meeting – but parish councillors are elected officials.
“The public have a right to know what is being said and done in their name. Just because emotions are running high does not mean that councillors should be hidden behind the cloak of anonymity.
“I did consider withdrawing our reporter from the meeting, but felt that despite the draconian rules applied by the council, that the public interest was better served by us reporting a censored version of the meeting. Only around 70 people were present and many many more will want to know what was discussed.
“Parish councils are often dismissed (wrongly) as talking shops of little importance. It is a shame and a disgrace that when the local community is looking for leadership, its parish council has decided that it does not want to be subject to scrutiny and would rather discard our precious democratic principles.”
HTFP has asked Stapleford Parish Council for a comment.