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Archive for March 1st, 2013

The basic job of a journalist is to report what people have said, not what you think they should have said. The latter belongs in the category of spin and public relations.

Which is why when you read quotes from a council meeting in, say, the East London Advertiser, you can be fairly confident they’re accurate, while those reported in East End Life have to be treated a little sceptically.

The following email exchange between the council’s press office and Tory councillor Tim Archer this afternoon is enlightening in several respects.

Tim is initially being asked by Kelly Powell, the town hall’s “head of media”, whether she has an accurate report of the words he used at Wednesday’s full council meeting. She explains  these quotes are for an article they’re running in this Sunday’s East End Life. (This is itself is interesting because the costs of Kelly’s time–and those of other press officers–are never billed to East End Life, which means the paper’s costs are understated. Here we have proof of the work they’re doing.)

Then after Tim agrees the quote is accurate, the press office says actually they can’t report it because the council finance chief (the section 151 officer) doesn’t agree with it. Tim is then told what he is allowed to say in East End Life.

So what we have is East End Life, a paper that costs taxpayers £1.5million a year to run, effectively censoring the democratic debates held on behalf of taxpayers in its own council chamber.

No wonder its critics dub it Pravda.

Here’s the email exchange in chronological order:

From: Kelly Powell

Date: Fri, 1 Mar 2013 10:57:05 +0000

To: Peter Golds, Tim Archer

Cc: Takki Sulaiman>; Emily Blackshaw<; Ross Archer>

Subject: Request for quote approval for EEL

Dear Councillors

Further to Wednesday’s budget Council meeting, we are running an article in East End Life summarising the proposals and next steps in the budget setting process.

We would like to include a quote from you and have the following comment you made on the night:

Cllr Tim Archer, said: “In effect this budget is seeking to mortgage the future and the budget black hole grows to £94 million in 2017.”

Cllr Peter Golds, said: “East End Life should be closed immediately as the government will soon be introducing legislation to prevent councils from printing newspapers.”

Please could you let me know asap if you are happy for this to be used in the East End Life article.

With apologies for the tight turnaround, I would be very grateful if you could come back to me by 4pm today in order to meet the paper’s print deadline.

Kind regards

Kelly

Kelly Powell

Head of Media

Tower Hamlets Council

From: Tim Archer

Sent: 01 March 2013 11:56

To: Kelly Powell; Peter Golds

Cc: Takki Sulaiman; Emily Blackshaw; Ross Archer

Subject: Re: Request for quote approval for EEL

Hi Kelly, I think the quote was ‘by 2017’ not ‘in 2017’.

Could you let me know the context of the quote, ie the para preceding and after where you plan to use it?

Thanks

Tim.

From: Kelly Powell <>

Date: Fri, 1 Mar 2013 12:13:37 +0000

To: Tim Archer, Peter Golds

Cc: Takki Sulaiman>; Emily Blackshaw, Ross Archer

Subject: RE: Request for quote approval for EEL

Hi Cllr Archer

Thanks for the swift response.

The context is that there will be a pull out box in the article, which describes the Conservative Group’s amendments and then the quotes from both you and Cllr Golds (subject to Cllr Gold’s approval).

Kind regards

Kelly

From: Tim Archer

Sent: 01 March 2013 14:14

To: Kelly Powell; Peter Golds

Cc: Takki Sulaiman; Emily Blackshaw; Ross Archer

Subject: Re: Request for quote approval for EEL

Yes I’m happy with that.

From: Kelly Powell

Sent: 01 March 2013 15:28

To: Tim Archer’

Cc: Ross Archer; Takki Sulaiman; Emily Blackshaw

Subject: RE: Request for quote approval for EEL

Importance: High

Hi Cllr Archer

The Section 151 officer has reviewed all the figures in this article for EEL and has said that he can’t verify the £94m figure in the quote below. We can’t therefore include it in EEL as it’s currently drafted:

Cllr Tim Archer, said: “In effect this budget is seeking to mortgage the future and the budget black hole grows to £94 million by 2017.”

I understand that officers have advised that there will be further savings to be made after 2015/16 (paragraph 1.3 of the budget report), but without a revised forecast outlining specific figures/savings.

Can you please provide an alternative quote asap for use in EEL?

Thanks

Kelly

From: Kelly Powell >

Date: Fri, 1 Mar 2013 16:22:39 +0000

To: ‘tim archer

Cc: Ross Archer>; Takki Sulaiman< >; Emily Blackshaw< >

Subject: RE: Request for quote approval for EEL

Hi Cllr Archer

Further to my [last] email, can I suggest:

Cllr Tim Archer, said: “In effect the mayor’s budget is seeking to mortgage the future and in our view the budget black hole will grow to £94 million by 2017.”

Regards

Kelly

From: tim archer

To: Kelly Powell

CC: Ross Archer; Takki Sulaiman < >; Emily Blackshaw <Emily.Blackshaw >; cllrpetergolds < >

Sent: Fri, 1 Mar 2013 17:37

Subject: Re: Request for quote approval for EEL

So I thought you were quoting me from the budget meeting. I did not realise that a quote from a member had to be agreed by finance officers. Calls into question the impartiality of the reporting in eastend life really doesn’t it?

 

UPDATE – Saturday, March 2, 6.30pm

It wasn’t just the Tories who were cheesed off their quotes from the council meeting were being censored. Labour, as you can read below, were having a far spikier row with Takki on Friday afternoon as well.

This issue goes to the heart of what East End Life is about. According to its website:

East End Life is the council’s free weekly newspaper which is distributed to more than 83,000 homes and businesses across the borough each week, enabling us to keep residents up-to-date in an informal and accessible way on the work of the council.

The word “newspaper” is used deliberately and it claims to keep residents informed of the “work of the council”. At the very core of the work of the council is the debate in the council chamber. Yet on this issue, its spin doctors have tied themselves up in knots.

If they believed they were unable to report what is said in the council chamber (on the dubious basis that that’s political), then why did the paper’s bosses ask approval in the first place for quotes uttered in that debate? Wouldn’t it have been better simply to have asked councillors to supply fresh quotes? Or instead, if the Section 151 officer was unhappy with the members’ quotes, why not just have a few words from him or her on those particular points of fact?

As you can see from the following row between Takki and Cllr Josh Peck, we now learn that only “statements or outcomes of positive policy” emanating from the council chamber are reportable by EEL. So if you are a resident who traipses across the borough (on public transport) to submit a question or raise a criticism at a council meeting, that effort, and that cause,will never be reported in the very paper you pay for.

Here’s the row:

 

From: Kelly Powell

Sent: 01 March 2013 11:02

To: Amy Whitelock; Carlo Gibbs

Cc: David Courcoux; Takki Sulaiman; Emily Blackshaw; Joshua Peck

Subject: Request for quote approval for EEL

Dear Councillors

Further to Wednesday’s budget Council meeting, we are running an article in East End Life summarising the proposals and next steps in the budget setting process. 

We would like to include a quote from you and have the following comment you made on the night:

Councillor Carlo Gibbs, said: “This is a wasteful budget that makes promises that cannot be continued beyond a two year period. We want to see a truly sustainable budget that protects residents from the worst of the cuts by stopping spending on what we do not need such as East End Life and mayoral advisors.”

Councillor Amy Whitelock: “Residents have lost trust in politics and politicians. We can only restore that trust by spending less on bureaucracy and propaganda and more on frontline services.”

Please could you let me know asap if you are happy for this to be used in the East End Life article.

With apologies for the tight turnaround, I would be very grateful if you could come back to me by 4pm today in order to meet the paper’s print deadline.

Kind regards

Kelly

Kelly Powell

Head of Media

Tower Hamlets Council

 

From: Kelly Powell <>

Date: Fri, 1 Mar 2013 15:21:09 +0000

To: David Courcoux< >; Joshua Peck< >

Cc: Emily Blackshaw< >; Takki Sulaiman< >

Subject: RE: Request for quote approval for EEL

 

Hi Cllr Peck and David

The Section 151 officer has reviewed all the figures in this article for EEL and has said that he can’t verify the £55m figure in the quote below. We can’t therefore include it in EEL as it’s currently drafted:

Cllr Joshua Peck, Labour Group Leader, said: “With a £55 million unfunded black hole – and massive pre-election spending – at the heart of the Mayor’s budget Labour councillors couldn’t support it. Our amendment starts to address this financial challenge and is a clear commitment to residents that we won’t play fast and loose with their money or services.”

I understand that the figure was thought to come from a Cabinet report in June 2012, but am advised that report showed a £44m gap to the end of 2016/17, but that the figure is now out of date and there is not a revised forecast published beyond 2015/16.

Can you please provide an alternative quote asap for use in EEL?

Thanks

Kelly

 

From: Kelly Powell >

Date: Fri, 1 Mar 2013 16:19:38 +0000

To: David Courcoux; Joshua Peck

Cc: Takki Sulaiman; Emily Blackshaw< >

Subject: FW: Request for quote approval for EEL

 

Hi both

I’ve spoken to David about the fact that this figure is in the agreed Motion, but I’m also aware that the S151 comments on the Motion state that the funding gap for 2016/17 has not yet been calculated.

Can I therefore suggest the following:

Cllr Joshua Peck, Labour Group Leader, said: “We believe that there is a £55 million unfunded black hole at the heart of the Mayor’s budget and Labour councillors couldn’t support it. Our amendment starts to address this financial challenge and is a clear commitment to residents that we won’t play fast and loose with their money or services.”

Please could you confirm asap if you are happy for this to be used.

Thanks

Kelly

 

From: Joshua Peck

Sent: 01 March 2013 16:45

To: Kelly Powell; David Courcoux

Cc: Takki Sulaiman; Emily Blackshaw

Subject: Re: Request for quote approval for EEL

I’m unimpressed, although not surprised to be honest, that you won’t just report a decision of Council. East End Life serves both the Council and the administration, and trying what are clearly political positions is nonsensical. I’ll go with: Cllr Joshua Peck, Labour Group Leader, said: “With an unfunded black hole estimated to be over £55million – and massive pre-election spending – at the heart of the Mayor’s budget Labour councillors couldn’t support it. Our amendment starts to address this financial challenge and is a clear commitment to residents that we won’t play fast and loose with their money or services.”

 

From: Takki Sulaiman

To: Joshua Peck

To: Kelly Powell

To: David Courcoux

Cc: Emily Blackshaw

Subject: RE: Request for quote approval for EEL

Sent: 1 Mar 2013 16:55

Hi Councillor Peck

The principle we’re trying to uphold is that EEL represents the council not only the council chamber – but we do try to report outcomes and statements of positive policy from the chamber.  EEL has never included an allegation about pre-election spending before and we do not cover political accusations made in the chamber.  This means we cannot run the phrase ‘and massive pre-election spending’.

If we included a similar phrase from the Executive about another party’s position we would rightly be criticised.  The minor deletion is suggested in red below.

Regards

Takki

Takki Sulaiman

Head of Communications

Tower Hamlets Council

 

——Original Message——

To: Takki Sulaiman

To: Kelly Powell

To: David Courcoux

To: Stephen Halsey

Cc: Emily Blackshaw

Subject: Re: Request for quote approval for EEL

Sent: 1 Mar 2013 16:58

Takki

You regularly include political statements from the administration, including in the Mayor’s column. You’re regularly, for example, carried the lie that there have been no frontline service cuts. That’s not only a political statement but its manifestly untrue.

Why the double standard?

Josh

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