Council slammed for attempts to restrict press access to meetings

Attempts by Tower Hamlets council to limit press access ahead of a crucial budget meeting have been criticised by a Conservative councillor today.

A full council meeting at which �70m worth of cuts over the next three years will be debated takes place tomorrow night at the Town Hall in Mulberry Place.

But the East London Advertiser and reporters from other newspapers and media organisations will be forced to watch the meeting from the public gallery and will not have access to a press desk, seen as a standard facility for local authorities.

In an enquiry sent to the council today, councillor Peter Golds said: “I note that Libya is currently censoring press and expelling reporters.

“However Tower Hamlets council is not Libya.

“The public gallery has been extended and yet the press table is no longer there.

“In a free and democratic society press coverage of meetings of elected representatives is essential.

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“For this to be achieved the press need a seat where they can see what is happening and somewhere to properly take notes.”

Reporters have not had access to a press desk for the last six months and often watch meetings from the public gallery or without a seat.

The distance of the gallery from the council floor, the lively reactions of members of the public and the fact councillors often forget to use the microphones provided for them add to the difficulties for press reporting.

A council spokesman said: “Full council meetings have been much busier than they used to be and there is a lot of pressure to fit media and all members of the public in to the chamber.”

In an email to the council’s assistant chief executive, Isabella Freeman, Mr Golds queried how the council can fund its own newspaper East End Life but not arrange for press attendance of meetings.

In a separate members enquiry, he asked how much the council is spending on a consultation into the future of the controversial paper.