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SoE sends message to Mayor of Bristol

Local democracy reporters have “significantly strengthened local news coverage in the UK” and should be allowed to attend mayoral briefings in Bristol, the Society of Editors has told the Mayor of Bristol.

SoE sends message to Mayor of Bristol
Dawn Alford: “I do hope that, moving forward, Local Democracy Reporters will be invited to attend your briefings and that regular communication with journalists – to the benefit of the public - can be resumed.” Photograph: Elissa Garcia on Unsplash.

In a letter to Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, the Society of Editors said that local democracy reporters fulfil a vital role in keeping local audiences informed of the work of local government and that part of their remit includes covering mayoralties across the UK.

The Society’s letter comes after a number of news platforms continue to boycott mayoral briefings in Bristol after the authority decided to prevent Bristol Post democracy reporters Alex Seabrook and Adam Postans from attending fortnightly briefings. This followed a briefing in which Alex Seabrook quizzed Mr Rees over his decision to fly 9,000 miles to Canada and back to give a talk on climate change.

In a letter to Mr Rees, the Society’s executive director Dawn Alford said that the local news industry plays a vital role in reporting on behalf of the public and part of this role includes the ability to scrutinise local government and public authorities while facilitating public discourse on matters of public interest.

She said: “The Society has previously welcomed initiatives such as your own to introduce regular mayoral briefings that enable the press to ask questions and promote transparency and scrutiny in the activities of local government. In addition, important messages, communicated to the media via regular press releases, allows news organisations to keep local audiences informed of matters that may interest them as well as engaging audiences that rely on more traditional modes of communication.”

Alford said that the Society was involved in the formation of the Local Democracy Reporting Scheme in 2017 and it was disappointed to see recent reports that local democracy reporters have been prevented from attending mayoral briefings in Bristol.

She said: “While the Society appreciates that these regular briefings have been introduced under your own volition and are open to a broad range of journalists from numerous platforms, the role of local democracy reporters has always been to provide impartial coverage of the regular workings of local authorities in the UK - including mayoralties – so I am unsure as to why, given their remit, they have not been invited to attend such briefings.”

Local democracy reporters fulfil an essential role in keeping audiences informed on matters of local public interest, Alford said, and part of that role included sometimes asking difficult questions of public officials.

She added: “Since their formation, they have contributed significantly to strengthening local news coverage in the UK. Like all journalists, their role includes communicating positive stories on behalf of local authorities as well as sometimes asking difficult questions of elected officials. This is done without fear or favour.

“I do hope that, moving forward, local democracy reporters will be invited to attend your briefings and that regular communication with journalists – to the benefit of the public - can be resumed.”