Thanet Star

Lies, damn lies and press offices

No one can be trusted when it comes to cash (Featuring Cllr Chris Wells)

The debate over Thanet District Council excluding bloggers from access to their press office took a turn for the surreal today both Cllr Iris Johnston and Cllr Chris Wells finally got their replies in to me. With Mr Well's reply mostly consisting of calling me a liar.

Back on the fourteenth I sent a Freedom of Information request to Thanet District Council and to help it along I copied in a few councillors known for caring about Thanet. This list included Cllr Iris Johnston (Labour). I figured that Cllr Wells would not be interested in this subject but he seems to want to pipe up anyway.

This is what the currently unanswered Freedom of Information request said:

Dear Sir,

It has been announced that TDC will no longer send press release emails to individuals. The email in question cites costs.

1. Please detail exactly what size of saving is being made with this move.
2. Please detail the evidence for such a saving.

Thank you

My suspicions that this was a move not from the top but from deep within the bowels of the unelected (and some might say over paid) officers of Thanet District Council were strengthened when Iris briefly responded to my questions by saying First I have heard of this Matthew! It cant be that expensive!

Meanwhile Mr Wells (Conservative) shows up on the Thanet Star blog having finally noticed that we've noticed that he and Iris are both carrying the can for homelessness, museums and land charges (among other things). His reply to this is to try and start some sort of fight by accusing me of being a liar many moons after the news that his duplicity on the subject of a certain park in Broadstairs and the building there on had been exposed, shouted about and almost forgotten again.

Of course Chris being Chris tried to make it a slur on the entire Liberal Democrat party to which I recently subscribed. Fortunately I have no buttons to push in that regard. I do however take exception to being called a liar and so Mr Wells now finds himself the unflattering subject of some amusing artistic comment on the whole affair.

The major complaint that Chris Wells makes in my general direction from time to time is that we bloggers (or me specifically) lack sufficient information and according to Chris "make stuff up" a situation that is not going to be improved by lack of access to quality information. I am sure that even as I write Chris Wells is doing his best to help bloggers get informed... or maybe pigs might be flying.

Meanwhile back in the land of the sane we are talking about the Council's attempts to shut down any investigative journalistic attempts that might uncover more of their misdeeds (like trying to sell a building project as a Broadstairs funded initiative when it is clearly funded largely by a joint effort between Thanet District Council, Kent County Council and a few assorted lenders.

http://www.thanetwaves.co.uk/2011/06/we-should-make-investigative-journalism.html Luke Edwards (Thanet Waves) rightly points out that Bloggers should act as a check to the power of authority by proving the public service of questioning our "leaders" especially when there is little will to do so in what is left of the local press.

Part of the problem according to Cllr Wise (in his reply to Michael Child (Thanet Online)) is that Thanet District Council have not got the foggiest notion how to deal with the volume of inquiry they currently get concerning every press release they make. Or in other words they don't know how to run a modern press office.

Mr Wise went on to say that the reason people read Thanet Blogs was not for information but because they like us dishing the dirt on the council and that Bash the Council is a popular sport round these parts. No idea why that might be...

My experience is that people check the local blogs to get some independent insight into what is going on because they largely feel isolated from the process of local governance and thus have little understanding beyond "council bashing" when it all goes pear shaped (which sadly is more often than not). Thus isolating people from the council in this way will have two significant impacts.

1. Less trust for the council and a greater tendency to "bash the council", speculate and make stuff up when all else fails.

and

2. A greater need for bloggers to report everything they can to compensate for the councils secrecy.

No doubt this will result in more "bash the council" before things can get better.

can I am sure that Mr Wise will have noticed that Tony Flaig's (big News Margate) coverage of The Margate Big Event and his praise for the council moving it to the new location was hardly council bashing nor was Thanet Star's article The good things TDC have done. Of course one probably needs to ignore these things when making excuses to the press.

It also leaves an opening, so to speak, for bloggers to do more to fill the void sadly this requires doing more with less. A situation none of us emerge from as winners.

Of course we could all turn to the Freedom of Information channels which, I have no doubt, will find that they are run ragged with the enquiries that any decent press office should be able to deal with. For a fraction of the billions that some staff are apparently paid for making excuses I could help Thanet Council's out of date press office cope with the information request rate but that would mean trusting a blogger.

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Public Comments

This Normal comment was left by Tony Ovenden [score: 0]:

To be honest Matt I was surprised that the council sent out press releases to selected individuals in the first place. Personaly if I want access to a TDC press release I just look on the TDC website. I just cannot see what the fuss is all about apart from a few bruised egos.
22/06/2011 22:51:47

This Normal comment was left by Dave [score: 0]:

The point about sending out press releases is that you want them to be read by the biggest possible audience.
Thats why many organisations encourage you to join their mailing lists, to get their message out. Some of Thanet's blogs have a bigger readership than the local newspapers and as ITV and the BBC are concerned its not always the case that Thanet's news gets aired as the topics are only of local interest.

I doubt whether it costs TDC any extra cash to add a few bloggers to their press release email list. It must have costs more to remove them.

One councillor is saying that the press releases generate calls to the press office. He is being shortsighted. If this is the case then either the press releases are not of the best quality or the people telephoning feel that TDC have more questions to answer. If this is the case it is in both TDC and the public's interest for more information to be forthcomming.
All said and done we are now under a coallition that is seeking more openess in local government. TDC seems to wanting to become more closed to the general public as the costs issue does not hold up.
23/06/2011 08:53:19

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

You've got it in one Dave. The problem is not the mailing list - it costs nothing to send a few extra emails - but the fact that the officers running the press department have complained that the call volume is too high.

Now any decent CEO, MD or Leader in a business would look and think "how can I solve this inefficiency?" Then they would look at replacing staff, training staff or putting new practices into place that meant that the issue stopped happening. In this case that the information packs that went with the press release held the answers.
23/06/2011 09:58:16

This Normal comment was left by Restore the Constitution [score: 0]:

Great piece Matt.

The way I see it, the public quite rightly believe that the council, being funded by us, should have our best interests at heart.

Unfortunately this is far from the case, illustrated by the fact that they do not want independent local journalists posing any awkward questions on the subject of how our money is being spent or misspent.

This is not just a local problem, it is actually part of a global agenda to remove the last vestiges of the 'little guy' having any say in how he lives his life.

It's a part of a corporate takeover to bring in a system of hi-tech neo-feudalism, hidden behind a veil of 'green sustainability', known in higher circles as Agenda 21.

It is truly scary stuff and we really ought to do something about it while we still have a chance.
03/07/2011 10:07:27
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