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May 3, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 7:44am

Reporter and student journalists barred from local election count in Kent

By Charlotte Tobitt

Three journalists were left in the cold last night as they were banned from entering a local election count in Kent.

A reporter from the Dartford Messenger and two paid interns working for local TV news channel KMTV were refused entry to the building while the count for Dartford Borough Council was taking place.

Press Gazette understands the trio could only interview candidates outside the building until around 2.45am when the results were about to start being announced.

When the results were being announced, the reporters were allowed into the hall and told they could film only the person doing the announcing, before being ushered out again to wait for the next set in the lobby.

Interns Jessica Sharp and Chloe Rose, both currently studying journalism at the University of Kent, were denied accreditation before the count.

They were told by Dartford Borough Council’s press officer that a print reporter from the KM Media Group, of which KMTV and the Messenger series are part, had already been accredited to senior reporter Sean McPolin. He was later also restricted entry.

Sharp and Rose (pictured) attended anyway because they believed they had received spoken word agreement on the phone from the press officer that they would be allowed in if there was space, with the agreement that they would only film outside.

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KM Media Group has a partnership with the University of Kent.

Laura Garcia, a University of Kent lecturer and special programmes producer for KMTV who organised accreditation for interns covering elections across the county, told Press Gazette the “bizarre and unusual” decision continued with more reasons given for the denial.

“Second they couldn’t allow us inside because of health and safety reasons and because of the sensitive nature of the count, which I understand to a point,” she added.

“Obviously you’re not supposed to film the content of the vote and all that kind of stuff but if I’m sending them as journalists for KMTV they’re obviously trained. We’ve gone through this, they know what to do.”

Garcia added that the council also said it had staff who did not want to be filmed, but that she had said filming during the count could be restricted to hands counting votes and feet carrying ballot boxes.

“They wouldn’t budge,” she said.

McPolin tweeted at 12.45am: “I didn’t expect to be standing in the cold during my first election coverage as a journo (after being told no journalists can go into the count until results are ready to come in), but it’s not been all bad.

“One MP and a couple of candidates kind enough to speak to us outside.”

Conservative MP for Dartford Gareth Johnson told the KMTV duo he was “slightly surprised” press were not allowed inside.

And leader of the council’s Labour group, Jonathon Hawkes, told them: “I’m really surprised and I’m more than surprised, I’m disappointed.

“I think having the press covering election counts is an integral part of local democracy. I think reporters should be welcomed into the count as natural attendees are and their guests.”

Garcia said she was considering making a complaint to the council, saying: “I think it’s a double issue about the space that local reporters have and how we’re not the enemy, we’re just trying to report on the good work that they’re doing, and also on the respect that people give student journalists which is a big pet peeve of mine.

“Just because they’re still at university doesn’t mean that they’re not trained or they don’t know what they’re doing. They deserve a space to ask questions. Their questions are just as valid as mine.”

Dartford Borough Council, where Conservatives kept control, has not responded to Press Gazette’s requests for comment.

Picture: Jessica Sharp

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