Council takes on press with 'For the Record' site

A council has created a new web page to publish press statements that newspapers and broadcasters have “chopped” or “altered and their meaning substantially changed”.

Medway Council claimed its “For the Record” web page – hosted on the local authority’s website www.medway.gov.uk – will keep residents ‘fully informed on controversial issues”.

It was set up following local media coverage of emergency planning for residents living near a £1bn gas station in the Isle of Grain, Kent.

The Medway Messenger – part of the Kent Messenger group – ran a special report claiming 2,000 villagers would have no escape route if there was a disaster at the gas plant

The village evacuation plan – obtained by a local salesman named Jack Hopes – told residents to ‘go in, stay in, tune”, and revealed the only escape road went within yards of one of the world’s biggest gas tanks.

When the newspaper approached the council for a comment it replied with a 191-word statement, of which the Medway News only used 54.

In response to BBC Radio Kent’s enquiry the council provided the same statement, but in its broadcast said: “We did ask Medway Council to join us on the show this morning, but sadly they declined. However, we understand the council is preparing to publish an updated emergency plan but there’s still no date yet.”

A reporter at the Messanger described the For the Record webpage as ‘frankly hilarious”, but the council’s media chief John Staples insisted it had a good relationship with the local press, and also insisted no additional costs were incurred in hosting the web page.

Staples said press statements would be uploaded on to the website on the ‘very odd occasion we might find a statement gets chopped or the meaning changed’to give people the ‘full idea of what we sent across”.

‘I’m keen to stress we have a very good relationship with the local press,’he told Press Gazette.

‘They’re there to scrutinise and some stories can be positive, some negative. We have a fully grown-up approach to the media , but from time to time when statements are chopped or not put it in, we’ll put it on the website.’

Staples said this will be done on an ad-hoc basis. The council said it had since published an updated emergency plan for the Isle of Grain.

Here is the statement used by the Medway Messenger:

“Since the last plan was published in 2008, there have been several reviews of the plan taking into account any changes or developments to the site and one full multi agency exercise to test it. These raised no concerns over the competency of the plan or for the safety of members of the public.”

And here is the full statement sent to the newspaper by Medway Council:

‘Mr Hope has contacted the council on a number of occasions asking them to buy his house and to pay him compensation due to his incorrect concern that there is no emergency plan for the Isle of Grain.

‘The council has stated that it will not buy his house and there is an emergency off site plan for the area that has been drawn up by the council in consultation with other organisations including the LNG site operator and the emergency services.

‘Safety on the site is policed by the Health and Safety Executive and the National Grid, who run the plant. Regulations require the off site plan to be tested once every three years.

“Since the last plan was published in 2008, there have been several reviews of the plan taking into account any changes or developments to the site and one full multi agency exercise to test it. These raised no concerns over the competency of the plan or for the safety of members of the public.

“Mr Hope has been sent a copy of the last off-site emergency plan and we will shortly be publishing the latest version.”

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