Cambridge News editor-in-chief David Bartlett has published an open letter criticising a local parish council’s refusal to allow its members to be identified in reports of an emergency meeting.
Stapleford Parish Council held the meeting following concern in the village over a “mess” that was allegedly left behind by travellers who had been evicted from a recreation ground earlier this month.
Councillors opted to hold their meeting under “Chatham House rules” – meaning information and quotes can be reported but none of the speakers identified.
In an open letter published on the newspaper’s website, Bartlett said a “key feature of democracy in the UK is that meetings should be open”.
“That involves the media being given access to report on public meetings, and crucially being able to report who said what at those meetings,” he said.
He said: “We fully appreciate that members of the local community may not want their name on the Cambridge News website or in our print edition, and indeed at the meeting would have been under no obligation to identify themselves at the meeting – but parish councillors are elected officials.
“The public have a right to know what is being said and done in their name. Just because emotions are running high does not mean that councillors should be hidden behind the cloak of anonymity.
“I did consider withdrawing our reporter from the meeting, but felt that despite the draconian rules applied by the council, that the public interest was better served by us reporting a censored version of the meeting. Only around 70 people were present and many many more will want to know what was discussed.
“Parish councils are often dismissed (wrongly) as talking shops of little importance. It is a shame and a disgrace that when the local community is looking for leadership, its parish council has decided that it does not want to be subject to scrutiny and would rather discard our precious democratic principles.”
Press Gazette has asked Stapleton Parish Council to comment.