Stop SBC Email Censorship
An Open Letter from NYE police and crime correspondent TIM HICKS to Mike GREENE, SBC’s new CEO – a good part of whose attention is sure to be directed towards the North Yorks Enquirer in the coming days and weeks.
Mike Greene Esq.
Chief Executive Officer
Scarborough Borough Council
Town Hall, St Nicholas Street
Scarborough, YO11 2HG
Dear Mr Greene,
Open Letter re: Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) policy towards the North Yorks Enquirer (NYE)
I read with great interest the personal statement published in the North Yorks Enquirer:
May I offer you my congratulations on your appointment. Your personal statement seemed to me to be clear, articulate and principled. I was pleased to read that we have much in common.
I am also passionate about public services and the importance of elected members ensuring that the services Scarborough Borough Council provides are fit for purpose. I believe that it is of the utmost importance in a democratic society that pubic bodies are held to account when things go wrong and that a free press is essential to ensuring this occurs. That is why I write for the North Yorks Enquirer.
I am therefore writing to you 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.
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 have previously written to Councillor Siddons over this matter, but he has not responded. A copy of my letter is below.
Councillor Steve Siddons
The Legal and Democratic Services Department justifies its policy by asserting that the NYE is a pressure group not a media outlet, which operates with the intention of causing nuisance and distress to the Council, Councillors and Council employees. I consider that this position is 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 every European Government except Russia. It therefore appears that the only public officials in Europe that reject these principles are:
- President Vladimir Putin.
- Scarborough Borough Council
Please can I ask you therefore to direct the SBC Legal and Democratic Services and IT Departments to stop intercepting my e mails, so under your leadership, the Council normalises its relations with all local media outlets.
I thank you in anticipation of your assistance in this request.
Tim’s Open Letter to Councillor Siddons of 28th July 2019: here.