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March 12, 2013

‘Town Hall pravda’ accused of ‘censoring democratic debates’ after asking councillors to change quotes

By Andrew Pugh

 

Attempts by a council PR working on one of London’s controversial ‘Town Hall Pravdas’ to alter councillors’ quotes have called into question the paper’s impartiality.

Emails published by blogger Ted Jeory show Tower Hamlets head of media Kelly Powell attempting to make councillors change quotes made at a meeting before they appear in the taxpayer-funded East End Life.

Councillors were told comments at the meeting could not be published because a finance officer disagreed with figures quoted.

Jeory accused the council of “effectively censoring the democratic debates held on behalf of taxpayers in its own council chamber”.

In one instance Tory councillor Tim Archer was asked by Powell if the paper could publish this quote: “In effect this budget is seeking to mortgage the future and the budget black hole grows to £94 million in 2017.”

Archer agreed the quote was correct (aside from changing ‘in’ to ‘by’) but was then told that a finance officer was unable to verify the £94m figure, which meant that “we can’t include it [the quote] in EEL as it’s currently drafted”.

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She suggested it should be change to: “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.”

He responded: “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 East End Life really doesn’t it?”

Later Powell also tried to make Labour Group Leader Joshua Peck change a  quote after the finance officer again took issue with it.

He replied: “I’m unimpressed, although not surprised to be honest, that you won’t just report a decision of Council.”

Head of communications Takki Sulaiman said: “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.”

A council spokesperson told Press Gazette: “The council does not comment on private correspondence between councillors and officers.

“However it is a general principle that East End Life, as a council publication operating within the relevant guidelines, does not print comment on the actions of local politicians.

“Instead, where sought, councillor comment has mainly focused on the local priorities they would pursue or their response on the local impact of national policies.

“Secondly, it is normal practice for EEL to fact check material submitted.”

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

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