Monday 13 April 2009

Council CEO bans independents, at odds with Mayor

Last week I made a simple request to Cairns Regional Council, and that was to be included in media opportunities. It's no big deal really, and the answer should be a no-brainer.

However, after an email war from Council's most senior media chief - a very poor judgement in public communication, during which Kerie Hull asked if I was threatening her - my request was referred to Noel Briggs, the Chief Executive Officer.

Now this debate moved from a private conversation, into the public arena. It need not have been aired in this forum, and I didn't want it to. However access to information and acting as another channel of Council debate, I feel this is an extremely important matter. Even those not interested in this debate, will see this for what it is: a Council blocking access to scrutiny.

"Currently the News Call distribution list is applied to recognised news media agencies and journalists registered with the peak professional body – those recognised to operate within the professional code of ethics," Noel Briggs told me.

Now I reckon that there's no so-called 'News Call distribution'. I've been in the political arena and public commentary for a long time now and in Cairns for 10 years, and never heard of such a list. Suggesting there's two lists of media contacts, is rather odd: the ones that we want to talk with, and the ones we don't. In fact, truth be known, I was getting invitations to Council media events, up until about April 2nd. I don't think the CEO and the media department had a sense of humour over my elaborate April Fool's joke.

I get media releases from Police, Heath and most Government departments. When the Tropical Population Health Unit send out alerts to their distribution list, everyone is invited to media briefings and question sessions.

Mark Davis, former media manager for Senator Jan McLucas, goes even further. "Every ratepayer should be allowed access to Council when it comes to announcements or media events," Davis told CairnsBlog.

"It is fundamental to democracy that residents and ratepayers know what is going on and can directly question our representatives if they want to. Whilst I was in Canberra and also the Cairns office of the Senator, I would include Blogs in our media distribution. Blog representatives attend media conferences in Canberra as a matter of course. The are a legitimate part of the media these days," Davis says. "You really need to ask what Briggs has to hide."

Davis also cites local Bloggers' detailed investigations into CEC, False Cape, developers and former Mareeba Mayor Borzi's non-declared land, that led to exposure of Council dealings.

Surely Council would want more to turn up to a Council media conference - not less? Or do they simply only want people who will not ask any proper questions and explore issues, other than what's on the press release?

Fiona Tulip, president of the Combined Beaches residents' association, says that the Cairns Post rarely criticizes developers for their destruction of our natural environment, with the exception beeing False Cape. "Developers such as Thackral's Argentea, Ken Frost at Kewarra, Hedley at Paradise Palms, Glencorp at Clifton Beach, Phi Hartwig at Foyle Road, have all interfered with riparian corridors, cleared significant amounts of native vegetation and breached natural creek systems on the northern beaches," Tulip says.

"On the few occasions where they have done a story, its always been a soft, light and fluffy story with little grunt. They are not going to bite the hand that feeds them millions and millions of dollars every year in advertising revenue, are they? In most of these cases, Cairns Post has been practically silent, especially Argentea and Paradise Palms," Fiona Tulip says.

"If it was not for the CairnsBlog, these issues would not have received any public exposure, and those of us on the northern beaches concerned about what is being allowed to go here by both Council and government departments, are very grateful for this vital support."

For Council to discriminate in this way, only goes to prove, that they will go to any lengths to maintain damage control over controversial issues.

Cameron Laird, a Townsville photographer and blogger, says anyone who wants to report what is said, should be invited to all events where possible, especially those events that occur on public property. "Most reporters are occasionally thwarted by a media or pr spin officer, especially if what they write is generally negative about the company or organisation the spin officer works for," Cameron told me over the weekend.

Under Schier's Mayoralty, more open democracy has been ushered in. It was a theme of Val's election campaign. Council meetings are now held at more accessible times, and move to Babinda and Mossman occasionally. Delegations and speaking to the Council at meetings is now sanctioned and encouraged.

Noel Briggs says he's reworking the policy to represent new media such as blogs. "Many blog writers may not be associated with the professional realm of news journalism, so this has to be updated to include new media," Briggs says.
However, in the same communication, the CEO demands 'membership details' of a news agency, before he will allow me, or any other independent correspondent, to question or interview at media events.
Re-working a policy simply means welcoming other media and independents, doesn't it? How difficult is that to do? This reeks of control. The CEO's statement goes directly against the Mayor's wish to allow independent media to participate in the democratic process.

It's hypocrisy, even laughable, when I hear that 'news organisations' operate according to some ethics. You only have to follow my Cairns Post Busted column, to know such a claim is absurd.

Our local daily have deliberately undermined the Mayor of Cairns in her first year in office. They've talked about her hair style; her office colour, how she failed to support the re-appointment of the CEO.

They even slander and insinuate about Val Schier's relationship with a female house guest. Gavin King continues with childish and disrespectful tones referring to the Region's Mayor as 'Aunty Val' ad nauseam. King's use of sexist epithets are out of step with modern respect in today's society. As Alison Alloway says, it simply 'draws speculation about the writer, not the one being pilloried.'

Are these practices of a respectable and ethical newspaper, that Noel Briggs refers to?

Local Government should be open and accountable to it's community. By saying who can and who can't come along to question at media events, is enormously discriminatory.

My readers and observers, including Councilors, know I'm an independent journalist, yet the CEO is asking for some membership of a news agency? I am my own news business, as are many independent bloggers and news commentators these days.

This is clearly at odds with the Mayor's express wish, and the majority of Councillors, to have open access to local government.

Now all this is important because our Council is not a private company or corporation. It's managed entirely on ratepayers funds.

"I have made it clear all along that I think that the CairnsBlog is legitimate media and should receive all media releases and be invited to any media conferences," Val Schier said on Thursday.

On Friday, a private meeting was held between the CEO Noel Briggs, Communications Manager Kerie Hull, and the Mayor's new adviser, Robert Leeds. Both Briggs and Hull are insistent that journalists like myself should not be allowed to participate in media conferences at Council. It's clearly an exclusionary tactic, but it won't work, as they don't make the rules.

It's rather astonishing that these most senior staff are meant to be servants to the elected Councillors and Mayor, yet think they're in charge. I documented previous occasions where I feel such managers overstep their mark.

At this Wednesday's Finance & Administration Committee, Mayor Val Schier will move to allow others to participate in media events at Council. She will also ask that a representative of the new media, like Blogs and independents, are involved in re-writing Council's exclusionary policy on media access.

"If we let him attend these events, he'll want access to the managers as well, and they have enough work to do as it is," Noel Briggs said in the private meeting on Friday.

While this review is underway, both Briggs, and Hull who is on leave to the 21st, are adamant that the 2003 policy should not be relaxed. Others are fine with our media taking part. The fact is, it wasn't enforced at all until I started asking questions last week. If anyone wants to turn up to a Council media event, god help the spin police trying to ban you. In fact, I will probably gate-crash the next few, just to keep them on their toes.

Although Robert Leeds has only been in his new role for a month, he's already been warned by Kerie Hull about being careful talking to me. However, I'm sure Robert has a brain to work out that such discriminatory behaviour is unfair and outdated, plus he will make his own judgements, rather than listen to others dictate.

Leeds has already had the wrath of the Post's Gavin King - a badge of honour of sorts - where King personally insults anyone he can't debate with on an intellectual level. King rudely says that Robert's highlight to date, is leaving university.

"I was bemused by Aunty Val Schier's recent decision to spend an absolute motza of ratepayer's money to pay the salary package of her new executive assistant. Nobody really knows what an executive assistant to the mayor does, but bloody hell it sounds important," writes Gavin King.

I have communicated with every Councillor, and the majority give total support for independent inclusion.

"Of course I support an independent media, it's the basis of our democratic society," said Councillor Julia Leu. Whereas Councillor Pyne says that all agencies and interested persons should be welcome to attend Council media briefings.

"I have no problem with you coming to media conferences Michael," Cr Lesina told me today. "I think Council has to move with the times and recognise 'new media', not just the traditional newspaper, radio and telly."

For no monetary reward, motivated primarily by a free and open debate, I work hard to comb for stories and allow issues to be aired that the Cairns Post or commercial TV news won't or can't touch. Like a number of blogs the have emerged in Cairns over recent times, we represent a constituency of voters and residents, and there should be no discrimination in talking with Council.
I guess Bloggers and true independents journalists, scare some. We have the relative freedom to explore, without any constraint, to dig and report at length. These days, with commercial and profit as the primary motive, traditional media like commercial TV or newspapers, usually fall below their goal. Holding a magnifying glass up to issues, allowing those often ignored to enter debates, is our strength. Also, our reporting is forever searchable, another powerful bow to our medium.

I have asked the CEO to forward me a copy of the out-dated Council media access policy, as it does not appear on the website.

We can see who's trying to control the flow of information in the Council, and it's not the elected representatives.


Crash said...

Hang in there Mike, you know you've got loads of support - they know it to. The bastards. times have changed, they're clinging to dated and unworkable parameters. Still, you know my motto "if ya can't join 'em - beat 'em" ...

Fiona Tulip said...

With a bit of luck Michael, you won't have to worry, because Noel, might have just made a really stupid decision with the global economic recession currently upon us.

You know how what happens first in the US, happens next here.

Well, according to ABC National (10/3/2009) US newspaper sales continue to plummet. Apparently over the past 3 years, advertising revenue dropped by an estimated 25% and is predicated to continue to plummet. Retrenchments are being felt across the board, and predictions are that some American cities could be without a major newspaper, questioning the real viability of the daily printed word as we know it.

Now to Australia and Cairns. In Saturday's CP, there was only 32 pages of Realtor, when there is usually between 60-75 pages (last year), so the number of real estate ads has dramatically decreased by nearly half.

So has Cairns Post as we know it got a future.....? Maybe not.

When more than ever, young people get their news from other sources such as mobile phones and the internet, coupled with rising costs of paper, sourcing of paper issues, distribution costs, and the cost to buy the paper by locals eats into tight weekly budgets etc, the Cairns Post, may soon be compost in reality.

Who is Noel gunna get then to even read his releases if there is no daily paper or a very limited one?

To Noel and colleagues, perhaps, not such a "SMART" move afterall!

Fiona Tulip said...

For Tom Chamberlain, Cairns Post,
I find that I must eat some of my words which I wrote last week re Cairns Post reporting of environmental issues on the Northern Beaches. And I am happy to do so on this occasion as I wrote the story before your article appeared in the paper.

Your article in Saturday's Cairns Post was the best coverage we have ever received on any enviromental story in the last 5 years. The facts were correct, the developer was named and the content written to give the correct interpretation by readers.

Well done, and our community is grateful for your accurate coverage of this story.

Unfortunately, the outcome for the this creek is not what it should be and once again, the developers get everything they want, and they get to interfere with a very natural system that plays an important role in taking excess water to the Coral Sea, is a habit for fish and water rats, and a wild life corridor for the few remaining Agile wallabies that live in Clifton.

Arthur Festerbestertester said...

The good thing about the ComPost story was that it actually recorded how the vote went. So we could actually see that the Gang of Six - Cochrane, Blake, Lansky, Cooper, Gregory and of course SnoJob himself - support this highly suspicious development. It also shows they support the destruction of our environment and the physical amenity of existing residents. I suggest the good Ms Tulip buys six mops and buckets and rings all of them to do the clean-up when the next flood caused by the development wreaks havoc.

Unknown said...

when first we practice to deceive ... what does tyhe goose in charge mean when he says "recognised news media"? Recognised by whom? What does he mean by "journalists registered with the peak professional body"? Does he mean journalists who are finanacial members of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance union? What does he mean by "those recognised to operate within the professional code of ethics"? Again, does he mean he and the mayor and councillors will talk only to members of the MEAA? Are all other journalists with whom council interacts members of the MEAA? Remember, this is the minor flunkey who had the temerity to suggest that an elected councillor should censor her facebook page to suit his own strange social views.

Lillian at Yorkeys said...

With the non-communication/barring of the Blog - all these Council officers - from the CEO, the media spin-doctors, the blasted Planning Dept & downwards.
And why does the Council need 2 media spin-doctors - Kerie Hull & Sonja Anderson? Is there so much spin involved it needs at least two to keep spinning.
And the Gang of Six - it's bloody obvious, & has been all along. And with Briggs in tow, you might as well call it the Gang of Seven - Briggs is as conservative & development-minded as anyone.
I remember Val saying she wanted to get rid of Briggs after the Council election, advertise the position & get a fresh face about the place. The Council unfortunately voted that Briggs contract be renewed, & that no advertising of the position take place. I know Val was frustrated & disappointed about this.
It would seem obvious now, why the majority of Council officers voted to retain Briggs. It's the old Byrne strangehold with a different viasage. Throw in the Evil Planning Dept. & we're pretty much back where we were in terms of development, as with Fat Kev. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Fat Kev isn't sitting back in the Villa Romana just waiting for the next Council elections, much to my consternation.
These are the sort of situations where Val needs to kick arse - but she doesn't. I get the feeling because she likes playing fair, others will. I would like to disabuse Val about this now - Val -they play dirty, they always have. You need to put up a fort against your interests, & not EXPECT people to play fair. Many don't.

Lillian at Yorkeys said...

I agree with everyone above.
I'd also include Di Forsyth in the anti-development crew, & also the times I've sat in various Council meetings, Linda Cooper has seemed to take anti-development & pro-citizens positions.

Arthur Festerbestertester said...

I think Lillian at Yorkeys is right: Briggs is part of the problem, so the Gang of Seven it is. I think the ComPost listed Cr Cooper as voting for the highly suspicious Clifton development, so I certainly would put her in the pro-development-at-all costs basket, at least for the time being.

Soon to be Censored for the Truth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Soon to be Censored for the Truth said...

The fact is Michael Moore is no journalist. He's a political wanna-be, embarrassed at his failures especially when compared to his successful friends. Let's remember how this blog started, as a get-Byrne diatribe so vicious that it attacked Byrne's wife and required legal action to get an apology. And this hasn't been the only borderline libel engaged here. And when Mr Moore manages a juvenile joke on April Fool's Day, he spends the morning hanging around council chambers looking for the media so as to promote his juvenility.

[comment removed]
The journalistic equivalent of a hit & run car accident.

Sure, some good has happened here. Mostly as the result of the citizens who contribute. And like a stopped clock, even Michael Moore can be right occasionally.

There is no question that the CairnsBlog has nothing to do with journalism, and should be excluded from proper news media events.

Quicky said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael P Moore said...

Thanks for your cowardly and anon attack "Soon to be Censored for the Truth".

As usual, such people hide and are frightened to disclose their identity and debate like normal human beings. It would be the mature thing to do. We would all respect you more for saying who you are, but us lot - even those that disagree with some of my writings, treat such contributions here with little respect.

I'm no "political wanna-be" as you claim, and also very proud of my achievements and contribution to my community. I've worked with many organisations over the years, which is all declared in my profile. This can easily be found under the Key Links section on the right-hand sidebar.

Thanks also for saying I have successful friends. I do indeed! I list amongst them, many of our local politicians, many whom communicate with me weekly, from all colours of the political landscape. Do you enjoy the same?

You talk about how this blog started as a "get-Byrne diatribe" - well that's not true at all - but it was a strong advocate for political change alternative to the one-sided Cairns Post - which is slowly changing.

I've never "attacked Byrne's wife".

Should also clear up your other claims.

You say my April Fool's joke was "juvenile". Well, me thinks you need a good laugh, as it looks like you are a bit miserable - after 4 days off from your Council job.

I didn't spend April 1st morning "hanging around council chambers looking for the media so as to promote juvenility." Like most of Cairns' residents, I was going about my normal work, that I've done for the last few years.

However, thanks for your compliment when you say that "some good has happened here. Mostly as the result of the citizens who contribute. And like a stopped clock, even Michael Moore can be right occasionally."

Charmed, I'm sure.

The only bit I removed from your original comment, was your accusation about my employed, of which you have no knowledge, nor authority to speak about. Odd, you accuse me of attacking the former Mayor, then unleash personal insults in the same breath.

Regarding your final claim that "CairnsBlog has nothing to do with journalism, and should be excluded from proper news media events." You will be proven wrong, as I have to say that you do not know even a quarter of the story has been told yet.

When there's such corruption and senior staff collusion, in the highest positions in our Council, then it will be bought before the public via this Blog.

So stay turned.

Anyway, what are you doing hanging around CairnsBlog for nearly two years now? Seems you really do like us.

We welcome all types here. Even the ones that hide. It makes us look a lot better.

Quicky said...

Not invited to the Council gatherings where "real" scribes meet.

You reap what you sow.

Briggs has got you right where he wants you ... on the outside.

Maybe an appology to KB and his wife may get you back in.

Are you man enough?

Megan Fox, Gordonvale said...

I have followed your blog for about a year on and off.. I agree there should be a totally free press or we end up with Fiji in our back yard.

T. Asquith said...

Michael, I guess the real measure of you blog's success is the number of hits (the circulation figures). Everytime people such as 'Soon to be Censored for the Truth' (and serial knocker Quicky) enter to add their vindictive little posts, they add to it. Isn't that a nice thought.

Oscar Wilde said...

I wish I was still around to write my witty monologues on these things called Blogs... however a good friend just forwarded me Tom's delightful scribble via a page boy...

All I can say is that there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

Janine Aitken said...

By Noel Briggs claim that would rule out over 10 local bloggers right to be informed and inform their audiences.

Most interestingly Noel Briggs who I personally would have picked as a conservative side of politics kind of guy seems to be at odds with the much loved by conservatives Freedom of association provisions which of course protect an individual’s right to belong or not to belong to a union.

If you take the time to go to the "peak professional body's" web site you will find they identify themselves as a union...

The department of immigrations website goes on to outline Freedom of association as;
We are free to join any organisation or group if it is legal. We can choose to belong to a trade union or to a political party. Having and debating points of view allows for a healthy and strong democracy.

Unknown said...

Isn't that just like the Liberal National Party. When members like Quicky and Soon to Be Censored run out of argument, they resort to personal vindictiveness. And, Michael, I do hope neither has been using a council computer to post on the Blog. Maybe you should provide the details to Mother Goose so he can start another witch hunt.

Margaret Pestorius said...

Is Byrne's wife connected in any way to Bryan's wife? ... Anyway - I'm for them.