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09 August 2018

NMA Condemns Thurrock Council Press Freedom Clampdown

Thurrock Council has launched a clampdown on press freedom after the chief executive wrote to the editor of the Thurrock Independent to advise that it would not respond to any communications from the weekly title.

In a letter to Thurrock Independent editor Neil Speight, Thurrock Council’s chief executive Lyn Carpenter said: “The council will no longer respond to you due to repeated breaches of appropriate working practices. This was previously notified to you back on 15 May 2018.  Communications you send in will be read and placed on file but will not be acknowledged or responded to by the council.”

The News Media Association 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.”

The council had contacted Mr Speight in May claiming that his contact with the council had been “vexatious and unreasonable.” The letter claimed examples of this included “publicly critiquing media statements,”  “choosing to publish internal  council communications” and “emailing junior officers directly in an attempt corroborate unsubstantiated stories.”

Mr Speight said: “Quite frankly I thought there was nothing left that Thurrock Council under the current administration could do to surprise me, but then again it appears I have underestimated Ms Carpenter’s passion for secrecy and the absolute contempt she appears to have for democracy and the residents of Thurrock as she seeks to hide failings of the authority under her guidance.

“There can be no place for a council that will not bear a challenge to its workings, nor one that deems it cannot be held accountable.”