Makin: tipped off about officer
A journalist-turned-council press officer has come under fire from the local paper he used to edit.
The Walsall Advertiser believes Walsall Council is trying to “kill off” damaging stories by refusing to comment.
And a story in this week’s edition of the free weekly states: “Walsall Council is refusing to comment on reports one of its senior officers has been suspended unless the Advertiser reveals its sources.”
The row started when Advertiser reporter George Makin received a tip-off that a senior council officer had been suspended. His source alleged there had been impropriety concerning the renting of council-owned properties to former council employees.
Robert Blower, communications manager of the authority and former editor of the Advertiser, told Makin: “People don’t have the courage of their convictions so they go through the back door to the local press.
“We aren’t telling journalists to reveal their sources but we aren’t going to comment on their sources’ allegations either.”
Last year the council was criticised in an Audit Commission report which identified the leaking of information as a problem.
Following that, Blower was appointed head of the council’s press and communications department.
Advertiser editor Natalie Missenden said: “The man who is paid £45,000 a year to make sure taxpayers know what their money is being spent on won’t tell us unless we name our sources.
“The public have a right to know because they pay for everything the council does.
“If one council does this, what’s to stop every local authority in the country doing the same? We already have problems with the police and fire because of the Data Protection Act – if local authorities start doing it as well, it is a slippery slope.
“Maybe they think if they don’t comment on something we are not going to run the story – they are just going to lose their chance to put their side of it across. After a couple of stories, they are going to end up with egg on their faces.”
Blower told Press Gazette: “I would never ask a journalist to name their source – it’s a silly question to ask because you know what the answer will be.
“In this case the story was about allegations surrounding an officer who has been suspended – we declined to comment further than confirming that an officer had been suspended because it could prejudice that investigation.
“We do comment on stories every day. We comment on something like 2,500 press inquiries a year. Local government is all about being open and transparent.”
By Dominic Ponsford