A local democracy reporter has shared her disappointment after “hostile” council officers questioned why she was covering a meeting without first informing the authority’s press office.
Lucy Ashton, local democracy reporter for Sheffield daily The Star and the BBC, was quizzed by Sheffield City Council officers as to why its press office had not been informed she would be attending the meeting.
The public meeting had been publicised by the council and concerned a masterplan to regenerate Gleadless, a large housing estate in Sheffield, but Lucy was challenged about her attendance after she arrived.
A director at the authority told Lucy she wasn’t aware she would be coming to the meeting, held at the John O’Gaunt pub, in Gleadless, because the press office hadn’t informed her.
Lucy, pictured, told HTFP: “She said it was unusual as their protocol was for the press office to flag up if any of the media were attending events.
“As I was interviewing an urban designer, a second council officer came up, interrupted my interview, and again asked why they hadn’t been informed I was attending.
“This officer then said they couldn’t provide me with a council comment as everything had to go through the press office. I didn’t actually want a council comment, I wanted to speak to residents.
“The officer then started talking about the meeting before panicking and pleading for me not to quote them. I must stress that the council press office were not aware of any of this and have since said journalists are obviously welcome at all public meetings. They are speaking to officers about it.”
Lucy posted about her experience at Tuesday’s meeting on Twitter, and she says councillors from across the political spectrum have since described her treatment as a “disgrace”.
Sheffield Council officers were unhappy I turned up at a public meeting today as I hadn't informed the press office.
I don't have to.
Journalists don't need permission to cover public meetings.
— Lucy Ashton (@LutheBlue) September 18, 2018
She added: “What’s most disappointing is the council is very keen to hear residents’ views on this masterplan yet it was quite a hostile reaction to a local journalist.
“As a local democracy reporter, my stories appear on a newswire for the Sheffield Star, the BBC and hundreds of other media outlets so it would have been a perfect opportunity for the council to get a positive message out to thousands of people.”
A spokesperson for Sheffield City Council said: “We welcome media scrutiny of the work of Sheffield City Council, and the local democracy roles are a great addition to this.
“Our press team has discussed what happened with the journalist in question today. We all want the same thing: to get the views of the people of Sheffield, and share information.
“We will learn from this incident and work together to ensure the media feel welcome our public events.”