A council’s decision to ignore a weekly newspaper’s enquiries has been branded “an attack on democracy” by the trade body for the regional press industry.
The News Media Association has hit out at Thurrock Council over its decision to no longer respond to comment requests from the Thurrock Independent due to what the authority claimed were “vexatious and unreasonable” requests from its editor Neil Speight.
HTFP reported yesterday how council chief executive Lyn Carpenter confirmed to Neil that any communications sent by the paper will “not by acknowledged or responded to” by the authority, following a previous warning in May over what it claimed was “wholly inappropriate” behaviour by the Independent.
Now the NMA has had its say on the situation, describing the council’s policy as a “clampdown on press freedom”.
In a statement, the NMA said: “This attempt to silence the local paper by refusing to answer any questions constitutes a direct attack on the fundamental principles of press freedom and the public right to know.
“Local newspapers perform a vital role scrutinising authority on behalf of the public and holding power to account. Any attempt to frustrate or thwart this function is an attack on democracy and must be resisted.”
Opposition groups on the council have criticised the move, with Labour and the Thurrock Independents describing it as “concerning” and “deeply worrying” respectively.
Councillor Rob Gledhill, who leads the authority’s minority Conservative administration, has so far declined to comment on the issue.
In a piece covering the ban published in today’s edition, Neil said: “From praising and acknowledging the benefits of a vigorous press, he appears to have been struck down by the curse of silence. I have contacted him over this latest directive and others from Ms Carpenter, but he does not respond.
“My newspaper and I are accused of being ‘vexatious’ by Ms Carpenter in pursuit of the council’s accountability to the residents of Thurrock. Effectively she doesn’t like being held to account. It begs the question, who runs the council – the officers or the elected representatives of the people?”
Thurrock Council has declined to comment, saying it has a policy of not commenting on the specifics of individual cases.