Local democracy journalists were banned from a mayor’s press conferences, sparking a boycott of competing regional news titles.
Bristol City Council announced a ban on journalists employed under the BBC-funded program after a public relations officer for the authority publicly challenged their right to ask questions of Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees during bimonthly briefing.
Alex Seabrook, who works for the Bristol Post and Bristol Live on the scheme, was challenged by the council’s external communications manager, Saskia Konynenburg, after questioning Mr Rees about his decision to travel 9,000 miles to the Canada to give a conference on climate change.
As HTFP reported yesterday, Ms Konyenburg had described Alex’s question as something “a newspaper reporter”, rather than an LDR, should ask.
The authority later defended its claim in a statement to HTFP about the incident, while industry colleagues rallied in support of Alex after footage of the row was widely shared on Twitter.
According to the Post, the LDRs have now been banned from Labor mayor’s conferences following the incident and the newspaper says it will not attend or cover any of the mayor’s briefings until that ban is lifted.
The move prompted the Post’s rivals, independent title Bristol 24/7 and National World-owned website Bristol World, to pull their reporters from conferences in solidarity with the banned reporters.
Post editor Pete Gavan, pictured, said: ‘The LDR service is an essential part of the journalism we provide to the city and surrounding areas. I wholeheartedly support and back LDR Bristol and the great job they are doing in holding the local authority to account.
“It is absolutely vital that the BBC-funded reporters who make up the local team can carry out their assignment without interference.
“The Bristol Post has a long history of advocating for the city and we have always sought to work closely with council and politicians from all parties to support the best outcome for the city.
“Inevitably, we will sometimes ask difficult questions or raise issues that politicians might find tricky. But we believe this is a key function of a free press – and a sign of a healthy democratic landscape.
“Bristol is fortunate to be served by many different media, which will have different priorities and audiences. The service provided by LDRs is available to all partners.
“We believe this is an important shared resource and are very concerned about the long-term implications of councils choosing to exclude journalists.”
A total of seven LDRs serve the West of England authorities, and Alex and fellow LDR Adam Postans are employed to work at the Post under the terms of his publisher Reach’s contract with the BBC.
In 2019, the Post slammed Mr Rees and other senior Bristol City Council officials after they joked about Adam’s credentials at a meeting, with the mayor saying it would be ‘great to have a reporter here ” seeing him there.
Announcing Bristol’s 24/7 boycott of the mayor’s briefings, editor Martin Booth said: ‘It is indeed a slippery slope if we allow Bristol City Council to choose which journalists they wish to attend briefings and those they wish to exclude.
“It is the role of all print, online and broadcast journalists to ask tough questions of our elected officials, and I share the concerns of Bristol Post editor Pete Gavan about the long-term implications of the city council’s choice to ban a reporter after he simply did this job of asking tough questions.
“At Bristol 24/7, we rely on the excellent work of our city’s two LDRs to cover stories we wouldn’t be able to publish otherwise, and I have the utmost respect for professionalism and integrity. of Alex and his LDR colleague Adam Postans. .
“Marvin Rees once said his motto was ‘ask me anything’. I hope he sticks to that motto and lifts this LDR ban.
“In the meantime, Bristol 24/7 will not attend or cover mayors’ press conferences.”
In a reportBristol World added: “Bristol World will not be sending representatives to the Mayor’s bi-monthly press conferences while Local Democracy journalists from the region are not permitted to attend.
“In the interest of openness and transparency, it is essential that journalists be allowed to interview Marvin Rees on all matters impacting our city.
“Stopping access to LDR journalists indicated a degree of control over who and who cannot ask these questions, what we say is wrong.
HTFP has contacted Bristol City Council for a comment on the ban.
Defending Ms Konyenburg previously, the authority said: “We welcome public discourse as part of a healthy local democracy and respect the vital role of local journalists within this framework.
“The mayor holds a regular press conference for city news outlets to ensure media scrutiny and transparency.
“Relations with journalists involve a two-way dialogue and we sometimes ask ourselves questions. In this case, the reporter’s question had already been answered by the mayor when an officer politely questioned their warrant, given the specific nature and focus of LDR’s role, and the fact that the story had already been widely covered and answered two weeks ago. .
“The clip shared online does not represent the full context of the exchange.”