Media

Community Journalists Speak Out on City Hall Media Policy Review

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 31, 2011

A number of local community journalists, bloggers and engaged citizens just issued a joint statement on local media access at City Hall calling on the City of Hamilton and the Mayor's office to "adopt a policy of openness and transparency that recognizes the right of ordinary Hamiltonians to access information and speak to local officials, in the spirit of democracy and civic engagement that is one of the hallmarks of this city."

The joint statement by local community media is signed by journalist Joey Coleman, The Hamiltonian publisher Teresa DiFalco, RTH associate editor Adrian Duyzer, Urbanicity editor and publisher Martinus Geleynse, blogger Matt Jelly, H Magazine publisher Dave Kuruc, CFMU 93.3 program director James Tennant and community organizer Matt Thompson, as well as by your humble RTH editor. (If you would like to add your name or your organization's name to this statement, please email: hamont.mediapolicy@gmail.com.)

The call comes in response to recent media reports that Peggy Chapman, Mayor Bob Bratina's chief of staff, has requested a review of the city's media policy.

In a recent interview with Bill Kelly on CHML, Chapman said she wants to establish a press gallery and stated that she will "recognize you and give you as much access to the mayor, as need be, or information that I have - and especially at council, if you have a boss. If you're a journalist that has a boss that I can complain to, if I think that information is incorrect."

The joint statement expresses concern about the purpose and objectives of the media policy review, in light of Chapman's recent comments.

The City's current media relations policy [PDF link] is dated May 2005. It states:

The purpose of this policy and accompanying procedures is to ensure that the City of Hamilton:

  • provides timely and accurate responses to media inquiries
  • makes available the most appropriate spokesperson based on accountability and responsibility
  • conducts media relations in a manner that is objective, understandable, open and transparent within the law

According to City Manager Chris Murray in an email to RTH, "We will provide parties an opportunity to comment at an appropriate time before being brought to Council for consideration."

One of the four pillars of the City's vision is: "To be the best place in Canada to engage citizens."

Asked whether the statement and purpose of the media policy may be subject to change through the review, Murray responded, "I'm ruling nothing out at this point."

Chapman has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Freezing Out Independent Media?

Chapman's definition of a journalist as someone "that has a boss that I can complain to" is particularly troubling, given the incident that took place between Mayor's office and RTH early this year.

On January 25, 2011, Mayor Bob Bratina accused RTH in an email of publishing "false and defamatory material" while reporting that his office had scheduled a General Issues Committee meeting presenting a Pan Am Stadium proposal at the same time that the Mayor was already scheduled to be at a Mayors' conferenc.

Coleman, who wrote the blog entry, interviewed Chapman by phone on Friday, January 21 and wrote that Bratina "may be missing Monday's special General Issues Committee meeting as he's scheduled to be in Regina for the Big City Mayors Caucus organized by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities."

Coleman wrote that the Mayor's office had made a "mistake" in scheduling. He noted that Bratina had requested to reschedule the GIC, but that a majority of Councillors did not agree to the change in date.

In a phone interview with RTH on Wednesday, January 25, Chapman said she spoke to Coleman "long before 5pm Friday" and that "the trip was canceled before" their call.

Coleman, in turn, said that he had called Chapman on Friday just before 5pm in response to an email from Chapman asking him to call her, and that they had discussed the possibility of Coleman setting up a live Skype feed for the Mayor to attend the GIC from Regina. Coleman also said Chapman asked him to forward a link to his livestream page, which he did during the call.

A chain of emails forwarded to RTH from Mayor Bratina includes an email date-stamped Friday, January 21, 2011 at 4:53 PM from Chapman to Coleman, asking him to phone her.

It is followed by a reply from Coleman, date-stamped Friday, January 21, 2011 at 5:00 PM, including a link to Coleman's livestream URL. This is consistent with Coleman's account of the time line and the nature of their conversation.

RTH sent three follow-up emails to Chapman asking her for clarification with respect to the conversation, but she did not respond to any of them.

Since then, Chapman has not responded to any requests for comment from Raise the Hammer.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By drb (registered) - website | Posted May 31, 2011 at 17:13:54

Am I reading this correctly? Chapman and Bratina get in a twist over the word "mistake", claiming that Joey Coleman defamed the mayor, but not a peep from either of them when Dreschel characterizes the mayor's behaviour at the GIC as "not exactly a mayoral moment."

So now Chapman is flying policy trail balloons on CHML, but won't respond to requests for comments from RTH. I wonder if she is returning Dreschel's calls. Soon she won't need a press gallery, just a single chair for Bill Kelly.

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By Token (anonymous) | Posted May 31, 2011 at 17:32:55

"We will provide parties an opportunity to comment at an appropriate time before being brought to Council for consideration."

So that's how we will be the best place in Canada to engage citizens? Really??

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted May 31, 2011 at 19:02:52

I don't understand Peggy's logic. If she is concerned solely about the citizens getting the correct information, why does it matter if she tells the information to someone who doesn't have a boss? People with or without bosses can make things up, tell lies etc whether they are given the correct information or not. To me, it would seem logical, that if someone wants the public to know the correct information, they should tell that information to as many people as possible who are willing to hear it. If someone wants to spread a lie about something at city hall, they can do that with or without the correct information. I just don't get it.

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By Raymond Barone (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 14:58:05

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