Joey Coleman: Local Media Access at City Hall: A Joint Statement #HamOnt

Local Media Access at City Hall: A Joint Statement #HamOnt

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

We, the undersigned, call on the City of Hamilton and the Mayor’s Office to adopt a policy of openness and transparency that recognizes the right of ordinary Hamiltonians to access information and speak to local officials, in the spirit of democracy and civic engagement that is one of the hallmarks of this city.

We, the undersigned, represent a number of local independent media entities, whether as media professionals, citizen journalists, independent bloggers or as engaged citizens.

Recently, statements were made in local press regarding the relationship between City Hall and media, and how the current policies may change in terms of how people in media access City Hall. These statements were made largely by Peggy Chapman (a member of the Mayor’s political staff), who states she is working closely with the City Manager’s office to revise and develop these policies.

While we recognize the city’s interest in developing a comprehensive media policy, we have concerns about its purpose and objectives. A media policy should be geared toward ensuring citizens and the media have access to information that ought to be public and transparent.

It should be seen as a concern that political staff would have influence on the development of that framework- it is not hard to imagine how policies could be developed that would result in influencing how information is gathered by media, and how that information is accessed.

“What I’m trying to bring in is a press gallery. What that means, and it’s going to bother a few people… is I will recognize you and give you as much access to the mayor, as need be, or information that I have – and especially at council, if you have a boss. If you’re a journalist that has a boss that I can complain to, if I think that information is incorrect. If you don’t have that, it’s, you know- how do we control, um, the information? I don’t mean control like I want to control what’s being said, but my first priority is the public. I would hope in media your first priority is the information to the public too. But that’s not my responsibility. My responsibility is information coming from City Hall, to the public. And how do we get that?”

– Peggy Chapman on The Bill Kelly Show, CHML, Wednesday May 25th 2011

The statements above by Ms. Chapman seem to suggest that at Hamilton’s City Hall, private media companies will be given preference over citizens who are engaged as independent media, perhaps simply because there is a perception that one group is more responsible than the other.

In making these statements, Ms. Chapman is making an implied accusation that independent media are less accountable than media owned by private companies. In fact, many citizen journalists are far less legally protected than media professionals who can access legal services at no cost to themselves, but rather the private companies they work for.

We believe firmly that any attempt to restrict access of the media to City Hall, whether professional or independent, would result in restricting the flow of open and transparent information to the general public, and inappropriately give political staff the unilateral ability to pick and choose who has access to information.

In the absence of a formal procedural framework, access to media seats in City Council chambers has been a confusing issue- some media outlets have gained access to the resource of a media desk when others have not, or have been dissuaded by the City clerks department to access those seats.

We are asking that Council and Staff develop a formal policy on media relations which is fair, clear, and does not allow political staff to unduly influence the free flow of information at City Hall. We would also ask council to make this dialogue public, by council and by civil servants who can be held accountable by the public. We believe that this issue should not be handled by political staff, who may be motivated to develop these policies in a way that is favourable to their employer rather than in the interest of informing the public.

We would like to request that the City Manager’s office, and/or the Mayor’s office publicly respond to these concerns promptly, offer clarity on what our rights are as engaged citizens and independent media and how those rights will be protected going forward, should any new policy be enacted at City Hall.

Sincerely,

Joey Coleman
Journalist www.joeycoleman.ca

Teresa DiFalco
Publisher, The Hamiltonian www.thehamiltonian.net

Adrian Duyzer
Associate Editor, Raise the Hammer www.raisethehammer.org

Martinus Geleynse
Editor and Publisher, Urbanicity www.urbanicity.ca

Matt Jelly
Blogger, www.mattjelly.com

Dave Kuruc
Publisher, H Magazine www.hmag.ca

Ryan McGreal
Editor, Raise the Hammer www.raisethehammer.org

James Tennant
Program Director, CFMU 93.3 FM http://cfmu.msumcmaster.ca/

Matt Thompson
Community Organizer