Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Hamilton's City Hall media policy and review has community journalists’ ire up

By Bobbie Saga

Hamilton community journalists, bloggers and engaged citizens issued a joint statement today calling on the City of Hamilton to adopt a policy of openness and transparency following disparaging comments against some media by a top City official.

The group issued the joint statement on local media access at City Hall  to the Mayor and Council, specifically requesting the Office of the Mayor and other city officials recognize the rights of all citizens to have access to information and to speak with local officials.

The joint statement is a response to recent public statements by Mayor Bob Bratina's Chief of Staff, Peggy Chapman whom the group says requested a review of the City's media policy.

"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," the letter states.

Group representative Ryan McGreal, editor of online publication Raise the Hammer (RTH), says Chapman made recent comments to media she 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 [information someone publishes] is incorrect," Chapman said on record.

The Hamilton Office of the Mayor was provided with copies of the joint statement. It is signed by Joey Coleman, freelance journalist/blogger with The Globe and Mail; Teresa DiFalco publisher; Adrian Duyzer, associate editor with RTH; Ryan McGreal, editor at RTH; Martinus Geleynse, Urbanicity editor and publisher; Matt Jelly, blogger; Dave Kuruc, publisher of H Magazine; James Tennant, program director at CFMU 93.3; and Matt Thompson, community organizer.

The group wants the City of Hamilton 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."

But so far, the group has not had a reasonable response from city officials, and no response from elected officials.

"We will provide parties an opportunity to comment at an appropriate time before being brought to Council for consideration," Chris Murray, City Manager, responded in an email to McGreal.

The current media policy specifically says the "Mayor or the Deputy-Mayor’s in the Mayor’s absence – shall be the chief spokesperson at all times for the City of Hamilton; representing both City Council and City staff…" Also, Chapman is listed as the media relations contact person for the Office of the Mayor on the City's website. She has not responded to multiple requests for comment from the group.

The City’s current media policy states the purpose of the policy and accompanying procedures is to ensure the City of Hamilton provides openness and accountability. It contains three key provisions for media.

They are 1) provides timely and accurate responses to media inquiries; 2) makes available the most appropriate spokesperson based on accountability and responsibility; 3) conducts media relations in a manner that is objective, understandable, open and transparent within the law.

More information:
The City of Hamilton current media relations policy [PDF link]

Source: accessed May 31, 2011

© Saga Times 2011

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