BANNED: Leaders gagged over Herald ‘negative stories’ row

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LEADERS at Aylesbury Vale District Council were this week banned from speaking to the Bucks Herald – because they believe our coverage is not positive enough for them.

The draconian measure was brought in after chiefs took exception to a number of ‘negative’ stories in these pages.

On Monday the council’s marketing chief, Teresa Lane, said cabinet members and officers would ‘no longer be available for comment’.

Instead they will only communicate with this newspaper, and our sister paper the Bucks Advertiser, through written statements approved by communications staff.

Yesterday the move was described as a bid to ‘censor the press’.

MP John Bercow called for the dispute to be resolved quickly.

A crunch meeting between the council and the Herald is scheduled for Friday.

In an email to the Herald, Miss Lane hit out at a ‘perceived lack of support’ for the town, citing ‘the constant flow of negative stories around, for example, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre’.

The letter did not question the accuracy of any of this newspaper’s articles, but said the council was prickly over the ‘tone’ used.

After hearing of the ban, Liberal Democrat group leader Steven Lambert said: “They just want to censor the press.

“It’s an embarrassment to AVDC that the cabinet hasn’t got the bottle to talk to the press.”

And Robin Stuchbury, Labour group leader, said: “They should get a grilling over what they’ve done, that’s what they get paid for.”

Buckingham MP Mr Bercow told the Herald yesterday: “I was sad to learn of this situation, and hope that the differences between AVDC and the local media can be overcome.

“I strongly favour direct and regular contact with the press, as a further means of communicating with the public, but obviously it is for others to consider their own approach.”

UKIP group boss Chris Adams backed the decision, made last week by AVDC’s cabinet, stating: “We feel that AVDC cabinet members need not make off-the-cuff remarks, especially if it is not in line with AVDC council policy or plans. I agree with Teresa Lane, that written statements and responses are given time for reaction.”

A written statement from leader John Cartwright, said: “We are introducing this change to the way we provide quotes to the Bucks Herald because we have a number of ongoing concerns over the way in which stories relating to AVDC and Aylesbury are being reported.

“The Bucks Herald will continue to receive all our press releases and will be invited to media briefings and photo calls. It is not uncommon for local authorities to operate a centralised press office to handle media enquiries and requests for interviews.”

“Communications and Marketing will be issuing written responses.”

THE BUCKS HERALD COMMENT

If you don’t like the message, then shackle the messenger – that seems to be Aylesbury Vale District Council’s novel way of communicating with the electors through the Vale’s leading newspaper .

Banning our reporters from speaking directly to cabinet members is a clumsy tactic and will do nothing to get their message across. It’s the sort of move often employed by self-important football club chairmen – until they realise they’re shooting themselves in the foot.

Apparently the council has taken exception to ‘negative’ stories within these pages – without disputing their accuracy.

Coverage of the Waterside Theatre is a particular issue, even though any dispassionate examination of our columns over recent months reveals positive and negative reports, and letters – not to mention the copious free publicity offered to forthcoming shows in our leisure pages every week.

The council is understandably prickly over reports of the cost of the theatre, £47 million, and the £19,500 cost of hiring it for last month’s election count – both matters of public interest, both raised within the authority’s own chambers.

We have, we’re told, shown a ‘perceived lack of support’ for development in the town, presumably by reporting that not everyone agrees with what the leaders say.

The Herald will never act as a propaganda sheet for the council, whatever restrictions AVDC’s spin team may put in place.

We will continue to ask probing questions on matters of public interest, and we will expect answers.

As Herald reporters prepare the paper each week, a plaque in the newsroom carries the words of Henry Thomas Ryde, who founded this newspaper way back in 1832.

“We shall not be induced to fawn to power,” he stated. “We shall proceed in a direct path, boldly scanning public men and public measures and aiming at the truth.”

Well put, Mr Ryde, we shall continue to uphold those principles and we encourage the public servants of Aylesbury Vale District Council to play their part.