Saturday 24th August 2019,
North Yorks Enquirer

SBC Interception of NYE Emails

SBC Interception of NYE Emails

An Open Letter to the Leader of Scarborough Borough Council, Councillor Steve SIDDONS [Lab.], by regular contributor TIM HICKS, addressing the continuing issue of email interception.

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Dear Councillor Siddons,

Open Letter re: Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) policy towards the North Yorks Enquirer (NYE)

Further to my e mail of the 19th of May 2019 which you have not responded to, I am again writing to raise my concerns over SBC’s policy of intercepting my e mails to Councillors and refusing to respond to correspondence from me including Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, because I write for the NYE.

The Legal and Democratic Services Department justifies this by asserting that the NYE is not a media outlet, but is a pressure group which operates with the intention of causing nuisance and distress to the Council, Councillors and Council employees.

I have decided to correspond in an open letter because this is an ongoing issue that is in the public domain and I wish to raise it openly. I hope this is acceptable to you.

I consider that the position taken by SBC under the previous Conservative administration was perverse. The NYE is an internet news magazine that has been around for many years. Many local people, including Councillors and candidates for the recent elections have written articles for it. I believe this position was only adopted by the previous Conservative administration to suppress legitimate free speech and scrutiny by a free press, because of the number of embarrassing scandals the NYE exposed.

Access to a free and independent press is vital in a democratic society. Here I quote from the “Declaration of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors”. (In full here). Which covers all the relevant issues:

“Journalists and other media actors in Europe are increasingly being harassed, intimidated, deprived of their liberty, physically attacked and even killed because of their investigative work, opinions or reporting. This alarming situation is not exclusively limited to professional journalists and other traditional media actors. …the scope of media actors has enlarged as a result of new forms of media in the digital age. Those at risk also include others who contribute to inform the public debate and persons performing journalistic activity or public watchdog functions. 

The right to freedom of expression, to receive and impart information, ideas and opinions without interference is guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights it constitutes one of the fundamental principles upon which a democratic society is based. The public watchdog functions of the media are crucial for upholding these rights and for the protection of all other human rights. Misuse of power, corruption, discrimination, criminal activity or human rights violations have come to light as a direct result of the work of investigative journalists and other media actors. Making the facts known to the public is essential for redressing such situations and holding to account those responsible. 

Journalists and others who perform public watchdog functions through the media are often in a vulnerable position vis-à-vis the public authorities or powerful interests groups because of their role in informing the public and provoking debate on issues of public interest. Obstacles created in order to hinder access to information of public interest may not only discourage journalists and other media actors from fulfilling their public watchdog role, but may also have negative effects on their safety and security. 

Attacks against journalists and other media actors constitute particularly serious violations of human rights because they target not only individuals, but deprive others of their right to receive information, thus restricting public debate, which is at the very heart of pluralist democracy. 

A favourable environment for public debate requires States to refrain from judicial intimidation by restricting the right of individuals to disclose information of public interest through arbitrary or disproportionate application of the law, in particular the criminal law provisions relating to defamation, national security or terrorism.”

The above guidance was subscribed to by the British Government and is consistent with Labour party policy. Yet as it currently stands, under your leadership, SBC is ignoring normal standards of conduct and intercepting my e mails. The same policy pursued by the previous Conservative administration under Councillor Bastiman. Please can I ask you to reconsider your position and:

  1. Direct the SBC Legal and Democratic Services Department, and the IT Department to stop intercepting my e mails.
  2. Direct the SBC Legal and Democratic Services Department to withdraw its prohibition on responding to correspondence from me.
  3. Direct the SBC Legal and Democratic Services Department, and the IT Department to stop intercepting e mails from other contributors to the NYE.
  4. Direct the SBC Legal and Democratic Services Department to withdraw its prohibition on responding to correspondence from other contributors to the NYE.

I am concerned that you are not responding to my e mails because they are being intercepted and withheld from you. Therefore please can you acknowledge receipt of my e mail by return.

I thank you in anticipation of your assistance in this request.

Kind regards,

Yours sincerely,

Tim Hicks

Freelance journalist

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