A MOTION by Tory group leader Phil Anderson that sought support for local press to sign a code of conduct was defeated at a full council meeting last night (Wednesday).
The debate had stemmed from concerns regarding the comments sections of websites which councillors felt had become “kangaroo courts”
Cllr Anderson said: “We must also be aware that new technology is radically changing the way that local media operates. Every media outlet in Thurrock now has a website, and this has opened up new ways for the public to get involved and have their say.
“It has also opened up the opportunity for anonymous individuals to broadcast lies and vicious verbal abuse to a mass audience. This would be unacceptable in any other context and it should be unacceptable on local media websites too.
Cllr Anderson proposed the motion by stating that this had been motivated by the phone-hacking scandal which he said: “Was not on the same scale in Thurrock”.
But he said the overall intention was to have a “Free press, freedom of speech and a fair hearing”.
Cllr Anderson had stressed that there was no legal enforcement for the motion but rather a moral one.
In an earlier draft of his speech he had made it clear to the press what could happen if they did not sign.
Cllr Anderson said: “It would also lead businesses and public bodies to question whether they should continue to deal with any organisations that refused to sign up.”
Council leader, John Kent spoke against the motion.
He said: “What is local. The Thurrock Gazette is run from Basildon, Surrey and Virginia; The Enquirer from Billericay and YourThurrock from Harlow.
“Are we to include the BBC, ITN and the national papers who all, from time to time, report in Thurrock.”
He also questioned cllr Anderson’s remark about phone-hacking not being on the same scale.
He said: “Are the Thurrock Gazette and Thurrock Enquirer breaking the law?
Cllr Martin Healy questioned the motion asking: “What message does it send out to small businesses?
“Should we not be trying to get our own house in order before trying to smash new financial models?”
Orsett councillor Mike Revell was in less forgiving mood.
He said: “I have nothing but praise for the printed press. It is down-right lies and rumours on websites that have, especially in relation to me and the other member for Orsett that have been sickening.”
Both Labour’s deputy leader, cllr Val Morris-Cook and public protection portfolio holder, cllr Lynn Worrall rounded on the Tories making veiled references to “websites that sail close to the wind.”
Cllr Morris-Cook was seen last week being harangued by Tory councillor Mark Coxshall in the civic offices after she insinuated that he was a contributor to one of the anonymous websites.
Stanford councillor, Shane Hebb seconded the motion and asked: “We should be held up to scrutiny not persecution.
“We have elections in six months time. Are we putting people off if they see how councillors can be vilified by the press.”
Cllr Anderson concluded the debate by saying: “This is a pro-active motion that looks for proper self regulation by a reasonable set of rules.”
All Labour councillors voted against it. Conservative councillors, Sue MacPherson, James Halden, Ben Maney and Mark Coxshall also voted it down.