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A Bad Mayor Day … but what does it mean for local journalism?

Hello,

A special Sunday edition of our newsletter, looking at the remarkable events in Bristol this week — and the reassuringly strong response from local media.

We’ll have our regular update out tomorrow, but until then, have a great Sunday,

Behind Local News

Should the Mayor of Bristol have flown 4,900 miles to Canada to deliver a 14-minutes talk, broadcast online, about climate change?

It seems an obvious enough subject for a local democracy reporter to ask the Mayor, Marvin Rees, about during the fortnightly press briefing attended by local journalists.

The answer from the Mayor wasn’t really an answer at all — but did convey his frustration at being asked about it. What happened next ensured a run-of-the-mill clash between politician and journalist became a very public affair, and resulted in every journalistic organisation of note in Bristol now boycotting the Mayor’s fortnightly meetings.

For Bristol City Council, the decision of head of communications Saskia Konyenburg to challenge local democracy reporter Alex Seabrook on whether he should be asking the mayor about this trip — arguing that it was privately funded and not in the scope of the BBC-funded LDR scheme — appears to have become something of an own goal.

The council then compounded matters by banning LDRs from attending future mayoral briefings. The council seems to be drawing a distinction between public meetings it must let any journalist attend, and those which it sets up itself, assuming it’s therefore OK to pick and choose who attends.

The problem for Bristol City Council are now three-fold. First, the climate change flight story which it was clearly sensitive about has been given a new lease of life, with at least 300k people having now viewed the testy Zoom exchanges on clips viewed on social media.

Second, the Mayor now faces the prospect of no mainstream media outlets attending his fortnightly briefings. Controlling the guest list isn’t very useful if no-one wants to attend your party. Articles and stories have been broadcast and published across local media in Bristol now. It’s not a good look.

And third, it’s the latest in a number of examples journalists point to of Bristol City Council being hostile towards journalists just trying to do their jobs.

It’ll be interesting to see what Bristol City Council does next. For local journalism, however, it’s been reassuring to see competing organisations put aside rivalries and stick up for journalism.

Here’s what we’ve written this week…

The council boss who tried to decide what a local democracy reporter was allowed to ask a mayor…

It is, apparently, the golden rule of public relations or communications: Don’t become the story.

For Bristol City Council communications head Saskia Konyenburg, the story in question is a very curious hill on which to plant a flag — trying to determine what sort of topics a local democracy reporter is, and apparently isn’t, allowed to ask questions about.

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Publishers unite to boycott mayoral press conferences after ban on local democracy reporters

Bristol City Council has now confirmed local democracy reporters funded by the BBC scheme are now no longer welcome at the fortnightly briefings. It is understood the council’s argument is that because the briefings are not formal public meetings, they can decide who attends. The council has not said whether the briefings will be funded, and facilitated, by public funds.

BristolLive, Bristol World and Bristol 24/7 have now all said they will not attend the briefings until the ban is lifted.

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BBC and ITV join boycott of Bristol mayor briefings after local democracy reporters barred

The BBC and ITV have confirmed they will join a boycott of press briefings by the mayor of Bristol after local democracy reporters were told they were no welcome to attend.

Both the BBC and ITV have now confirmed they will join the boycott, while The Bristol Cable, an independent investigative news operation in the city, have revealed the mayor’s office had previously banned them anyway.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We are deeply disappointed by the decision taken by the Mayor’s Office to not allow the Bristol LDR into his fortnightly press conference.

Ian Axton, Head of News at ITV West Country said “ ITV News West Country stands by other media organisations on this issue.“

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NUJ condemns Bristol mayor over local democracy reporter ban

The National Union of Journalists today condemned as anti-democratic a decision by Bristol City Council to begin picking and choosing which reporters could attend briefings by its directly-elected mayor.

Charlotte Green, speaking on behalf of the Local Democracy Reporter NUJ chapel at Reach, said: “The Reach LDR NUJ chapel strongly condemns the position adopted towards Local Democracy Reporters in Bristol by the city council.

“Reactionary measures, like banning LDRs from Mayoral media briefings, only serves to undermine a council’s public commitment to transparency and accountability to its residents.

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Bristol mayor accused of ‘blunt attack on democracy’ after ban on local democracy reporters

Industry leaders have condemned a directly-elected mayor and his communications team after they responded to questions they didn’t like from a local democracy reporter by banning all LDRs from mayoral briefings.

The News Media Association called for the council to change its mind.

NMA deputy chief executive Lynne Anderson said: “The NMA condemns the banning of Local Democracy Reporters from the Bristol mayor’s briefings — a blunt assault on the principles of local democracy — in the strongest possible terms.

“By preventing local journalists from scrutinising their activity, Bristol City Council are disenfranchising the public they are supposed to serve. We stand with our colleagues in calling for an immediate end to this wholly misguided and deeply damaging ban.”

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Our next update will land in your inbox tomorrow morning.

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