Friday, 15 July 2011

Thanet District Council’s response to its war on Thanet blogs


With some of the accredited media somewhat discredited at the moment - The News of the World has gone. The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times follow?? – there is an added irony to this post.

Some of you will remember that about a month ago TDC decided to stop sending press releases to me and other non accredited news sources, see http://thanetonline.blogspot.com/2011/06/thanet-district-councils-new-war-on.html

My take on this is, as several thousand local people read this blog and read my press release blog – where I published the TDC press releases and other TDC information before the council stopped cooperating with me – then information supplied by the council to me and the very few other prominent local bloggers for publication, should be treated differently to information requested by a member of the public, for their personal use.

Now if I want to ask the council a question I have to use their freedom of information department and as the foi legislation says the council don’t have to reply to me for a month, they don't.

In fact I used this system to try and find out about their new rules for unaccredited press and a month later I have just now received the replies.

This request relates to the way the council provides information to accredited and non accredited media.

For the purposes of this request I am assuming that a council accredited media source is a media source that receives press releases or can ask the councils press department questions.

Thank you for your communication received on 14/06/2011 entitled Freedom of Information Request 1 where you requested various information regarding the Council's press releases, websites, publications, and accredited media.

The information you requested is as follows. I have numbered my responses according to your original request.


I have tried to make  this easy to follow by putting my questions in blur and the council’s answers in red.

  1. Please provide any additional information about the council’s relationship with the media that I haven’t asked for but is held by the council and appears pertinent.
 Please confirm any additional information that you require.


  1. Does the council have any accredited media source that is exclusively internet?
 The Council does not have an accredited media source that is exclusively internet.

  1. Does the council have any accredited media source where the local media publication is exclusively internet but the same business has paper publications? Your Thanet would be an example of this.
The council does have an accredited media source where the local publication is exclusively internet but the same source has paper publications.

  1. Please provide a list of exactly who and which organisations receive council press releases or can ask the council press department questions? Please include in-house and government funded publications?
 The organisations that can currently receive Council press releases and put enquiries through the Council Press Office are as follows:

Academy FM
BBC South East Today
BBC Radio Kent
Heart FM
ITV Meridian
KM-FM
KM Thanet Extra
Thanet Gazette and Thanet Times
Your Thanet/Kent on Sunday
Local Government Association

  1. Please provide a list of which publications the council pays to advertise in and an approximate figure for the councils spending on advertising in accredited media?
 The Council has paid to advertise in the following publications:
Heart FM
KMFM
KM Thanet Extra
Thanet Gazette & Thanet Times
Your Thanet/Kent on Sunday


  1. Please provide the approximate cost of public information publications funded by the council, including the cost of the council’s various public information websites?
 As you have not specified a period over which you would like the Council’s spend on advertising in accredited media, I have supplied information for 2010/11.

The total that the entire Council spent on advertising for 2010/11 was £105,256.10

As you have not specified which publications or over which period I have provided the information below. The production of these publications is currently under review for future years.

The approximate cost of public information publications funded by the Council for 2010/11 are as follows:

Thanet Matters – 3 editions - Total Cost  = £12,433.00

Youth Matters
Easter edition  = £4,761.00
Summer edition  (combined with Sports Matters) = £6,109.00

The approximate cost of the Council’s various public information websites for 2010/11 is £22,337.78


  1. Are there any accredited publications that the council do not contribute to financially in some way?
 The council does not contribute financially to the following accredited publications:

BBC Radio Kent
BBC South East Today
ITV Meridian
Academy FM


  1. Does the council have a policy for withdrawing funding including advertising revenue from accredited publications and for what reasons would the council withdraw funding? Would the council for instance withdraw advertising or threaten to withdraw advertising from an accredited news source that criticised the council?
 The council does not have a policy for withdrawing funding, including advertising revenue from accredited publications and would not withdraw advertising from accredited media that criticised the council.

  1. Does the council incur any extra costs for adding non accredited news sources to their press release mailing list?
The council does not incur extra cost for adding non accredited media to their press release mailing list but does incur additional resource strain as a result of managing this list and the resulting enquiries.


  1. Have any of the council’s accredited news sources requested that the council does not supply press releases to non accredited news sources?
None of the council’s accredited media sources have requested that the council does not supply press releases to non accredited media. Press releases are supplied to everyone via the council’s website and RSS News Feed.

  1. Have any of the news sources supplied with press releases up to this point abused them, not adhered to embargos and so on?
 News sources supplied with press releases have not abused them.

  1. Have the council’s press department been supplying press releases to and answering questions for individuals or organisations that have no news outlet or obvious public readership?
 The Council Press Office has previously supplied press releases to and answered enquiries from individuals/organisations that have no news outlet or obvious public readership however this practice has now ceased.

  1. Up until the present ban on non accredited news sources, my understanding is they were the only point of publication for high definition reproduction of the council’s accompanying press release photographs. What will happen to these photographs now and will the council publish them in high definition online?
 The Council provides high resolution imagery to accredited media sources for their publication. The Council will not be publishing these images in high resolution on its website as we supply them directly to accredited media.

Where appropriate, the Council publishes low resolution images on its website to illustrate new stories. See the following for an example:

http://www.thanet.gov.uk/environment__planning/planning/ldf_and_local_plan/dreamland/dreamland_cinema_building.aspx

  1. Does the council have a policy of delaying publication of their press releases to coincide with the publication of the same releases in accredited news sources?
The council does not have a policy of delaying press releases to coincide with the publication of the same releases in accredited media. Releases may, on occasion, be embargoed until a particular date, meaning that the information will then appear in different media at the same time.

  1. Has any political pressure or pressure from elected members been put on the council to stop sending press releases to or providing information to non accredited news sources?
Political pressure from elected members has not been put on the council to stop sending press releases to non accredited media. Information and press releases are available to all through our RSS News Feed, web site, customer services, customer feedback and FOI.

  1. Does a news sources readership have any effect on its accreditation and if it does what level of readership would be required to gain accreditation?
 Readership does not determine whether or not an individual can access the Council’s Press Office.

  1. What criterion does the council use to select accredited news sources?
 In order to qualify as accredited media with the Council it is necessary to be a journalist working for, or on behalf of, a media organisation which is governed by an impartial code of conduct such as the Press Complaints Commission, BBC Trust or OFCOM.

29 comments:

  1. so michael, maybe you will stop wasting ratepayers money by pestering the council for accreditation, when, infact, you are just an individual who posts on the web... and has an overinflated view of your own importance?

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  2. I see "Thanet Life" isn't on their list, yet Simon apparently used a TDC press release in his post the other day before it was put on their website. Perk of the job perhaps?

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  3. I think if you read my entry on Thanet Life it's not the same as the council press release but an opinion that links to it!

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  4. 14.59 Ratepayers and closed government like the hovercraft in the picture are things of the past.

    We now have council taxpayers and officers generally striving towards more open government.

    We have a situation within the council where there have been a lot staff changes and from what I can tell of the situation a new understating within the council, that the way the council provides information needs improvement.

    In a general sense I think the council would like to work towards a situation where most of the council documents are both available and findable on the council’s website and that website becoming the main information source for councillors, officers and the public.

    As far as the questions go, apart from wanting to know the answers for the readers of this and other local blogs, the idea was to make the council officers think about this public information issue.

    For example there was a council meeting yesterday and bits of information about it are seeping out from different sources, but so far nothing from the council, something that is neither good nor appropriate.

    15.54 although this is in sense a valid point, Simon is bound to have a better idea than most of us about what is going on at the council.

    From what I can see there really is no valid reason for the council not sending out press releases to local bloggers. There may be a valid reason for not offering other press release facilities but from the councils advertising costs it certainly looks like any free sources of council publicity are a benefit.

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  5. Crossed over there Simon, I intend to ask the council to return to sending us out the press releases and where possible the pictures as they have said this doesn’t cost them anything. I know you were one of the people who found my press release blog useful and I hope I can get your support with getting back on the press release email list.



    I can see that the use of the press office for answering questions is another matter, oddly enough about half of my emails to the press department related to typos and broken links in press releases. With the rest this was a two way thing I think there was just as much coming from the council asking me to clarify or correct something on the blog as there was me asking them questions.

    I was considering publishing the whole correspondence but am now getting a much more positive attitude from officers towards the presentation of council information online.

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  6. Micheal
    Where do i put in a freedom of information request regarding KMFM and ken wills who owns it

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  7. Derick I think the short answer here is you don’t foi requests relate to government bodies, and basically revolve around he who pays the piper – us – having certain rights to obtain information.

    With the media it rather depends on what it is you are after, for instance there is the press complaints commission if this relates to the KM FM radio station there is the Radio Authority which is responsible for licensing radio stations and some aspects of regulation under the broadcasting act.

    Company information is of course obtainable from Companies House for a small fee.

    Essentially though broadcasting organisations regulation is complex and overseen by a number of different organisations.

    I would have thought that in the first instance though just giving Ken a ring would probably be your best starting point, as he is a prominent local businessman.

    When dealing with the media I have found that there is a bit of a case of the cobbler’s children going barefoot, so on the occasions when I have done a news story about a news organisation I have had some very strange responses indeed.

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  8. As a councillor Simon Moores has special access to inside information, which is not available to me or Michael via normal enquires to the press office therefore he should cease to comment on local matters.

    Maybe Simon could explain how this exclusion can be considered anything other than a blatant misuse of taxpayer money to assist the conservative administration

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  9. Michael, now you have your answers what are you going to do with them? Apart from wasting Council’s resources your apparent pestering of the Council has probably denied others of receiving the press releases. Why don’t you use the RSS feed and have the releases delivered to you like the rest of us? What is so special about you?
    Remember, the Council is responsible to all residents, not just you. What they do for you they must also do for me and everyone else in Thanet. Why do you expect special treatment?

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  10. Derick97, the best way to make a FOI request is via www.whatdotheyknow.com and everybody can see how long it takes to reply. Like the FOI request made on the 28 feb regarding the ex chief exec payoff detail. This was refused (data protection) on the 13 july, a bit longer than the 20 days allowed. But Michael has pointed out that TDC have published some of this info on their own web site in their accounts. How daft can TDC be.
    Anon 10.14, democracy and open government costs money in the short term but the alternative is to allow councils to sweep things under the carpet. So the few pounds is cost for TDC to email press releases to bloggers is peanuts. Thousands read Thanet's blogs to obtain council news, more than the local rags. Councillors alone costs over £350,000 p.a to keep in place and many of them are in post just to nod.

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  11. Anonymous 11.50 - I think you’ve missed my point. Anyone can set up a blog as an extension to their ego and without any code of conduct. This doesn’t make them a creditable source of information.

    I would guess it’s Michael’s constant questions that have caused TDC to stop sending press releases to bloggers. Imagine if everyone with a blog acted the same as Michael; how would the Council deal with that?

    It’s not a matter of democracy or open government as the releases are published on their website, and they provide an RSS feed if you want them delivered to you: http://www.thanet.gov.uk/feeds/tdcnews.aspx.

    I would suggest the “thousands” that read Thanet blogs are not looking for news as much as opinion, or gossip as it used to be called. Presumably, if they can read blogs they can read TDC’s website and make up their own minds about what is said.

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  12. Like this Derick97

    But in the spirit of freedom of information there is no anonymity. And your FOI is published as you can see.

    Kent Police will probably not want to answer this.

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  13. Quote from Anon

    "Anonymous 11.50 - I think you’ve missed my point. Anyone can set up a blog as an extension to their ego and without any code of conduct. This doesn’t make them a creditable source of information."

    Recently HM Coroner released transcripts of inquest evidence. I have told all blogs that if a copy is leaked to them do not publish as the evidence is subject of an HM Coroner embargo.

    The week the embargoed evidence was released the Thanet Gazette put out billboards about their supposed Friday report of the Inquest evidence.

    Their explanation is they accidentally put out old billboards from 2010.

    They did not publish. Fortunately they appear to have been persuaded to follow the higher standards of practice of Thanet bloggers ?

    Namely that set by the law. Tends to be a better yardstick than codes of practice. Jog on.

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  14. Retired ... The law applies to everyone (including the Press), not just Thanet Bloggers.

    A code of practice is an additional safeguard that doesn't apply to bloggers.

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  15. Retired, Daly was a Labour Councillor for Westgate!

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  16. 10:14 like the 1.6 millions not collected. I put it to you that you are a mouthpiece of TDC and therefore you postings are irrelevant!!!

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  17. Anonymous 10:14July 19, 2011 6:33 pm

    Annonymous 18:42 ... I don’t fully understand your comment . What does “1.6 millions not collected” refer to?

    I can assure you that I am not a mouthpiece of TDC, far from it in fact! I guess that will mean nothing to you as you appear to have some kind of agenda that you’re unable to share or discuss in a rational manner.

    In this country we have one of the best democracies in the world. It may not be perfect but it’s highly regarded around the world. As we all do Michael has the chance to vote for a Councillor to represent the collective view of the area he lives in. He then bypasses his representative and wastes resources at the Council trying to be his own representative. Possibly a result of this is that the Council have withdrawn their support of local blogs by issuing them with press releases. Again, I ask that you consider the situation if everyone acted the same as Michael.

    Don’t forget, Council officers are responsible to the Councillors, not Michael. It’s his Councillor he should be talking issue with, but apparently that’s not good enough for Michael. If everyone acted in the same manner the logical conclusion is that the Freedom of Information Act would be in jeopardy on cost grounds.

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  18. Sorry 1014, Council Officers are responsible to us, the people of Thanet. Councillors provide overview

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  19. Council officers may be indirectly responsible to the public but they answer to councillors who are the elected democratic representatives of the population.

    In principle, you can't have the public taking short cuts across the face of local democracy simply because they want to indulge a hobby.

    Council officers have an important job to do with increasingly limited resources. They don't exist simply to satisfy personal curiousity or a personal agenda

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  20. DrM and 18:13

    Unless you have personally requested for relevant information (under FOI) and you are treated like vermin by our so called TDC then both of you would have a better understanding of the system. Please bear in mind that we pay them to do a job!!!!

    Its clear that Bloggers play an important part of our life including tweeting and the like.

    What I find deeply offensive is to berate someone for doing a public service in a manner that is better then TDC's diktat system...

    So you crack on Michael your doing a great job unlike TDC.

    The real Malcolm

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  21. Anonymous 10:14July 20, 2011 8:30 am

    Thank you Dr M, that's exactly what I was trying to say.

    The real Malcolm, I have personally requested information under FOI, and my request was not dealt with to my satisfaction. Being "treated like vermin" is another emotive comment with little relevance. It's fairly obvious in my case that the request wasn't given the consideration it deserved.

    I tend to think maybe the Council Officers could have done a better job if they weren't so busy trying to get Michael off their backs. On this basis I would suggest Michael is doing a public disservice.

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  22. Just a few points here that seem to have been overlooked by commentators.

    Firstly the decision to exclude non-accredited media wasn’t a democratic one but seems to have been just made in an arbitrary way without debate or the involvement of elected representatives.

    Secondly the councils news facility seem to be about as broken as one can get, there hasn’t been a single news feed in the last week (anyone wants to refute this I have just taken a screen shot) and that despite a controversial council meeting with considerable public interest.

    Thirdly the press releases that I was receiving at no extra cost to the council were not published here on this blog but on the Thanet Press Releases blog, something Simon often used and linked to due to delay within the council in getting their press releases onto their website.

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  23. Anonymous 10:14July 20, 2011 1:35 pm

    Michael, you're still working on the basis that you have a right to receive press releases. They are PRESS releases which I take to mean they are for the PRESS. For the other 125,000+ of us they are published on the Council's website which also provides a news feed.

    I would have thought with your self confessed knowledge of IT it shouldn't be too difficult to access the information. Admittedly the news feed doesn't appear to be working at the moment, but I guess this is a technical issue which will be resolved in due course. In the meantime you'll have to go through the trauma of looking at the website!

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  24. 10.14 I think the point is that the council press releases often take as much as then days to appear on the council’s website, sometimes appearing after the event they are supposed to be publicising.

    This was the reason I set up the press release blog in the first place.

    No press releases have appeared on the council’s website for over a week, do you think this is because they haven’t produced any?

    No mention has been made on the council’s website of the council meeting six days ago, no webcast has appeared nor has a notice that there wont be one because of equipment failure.

    Perhaps the council have decided to stop giving out information altogether, in case this raises public questions, do you think this would be a good idea?

    Over £100,000 on advertising and then they appear to be trying to limit the amount of people who see it, so they don’t have to respond to it, does this make sense to you?

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  25. Michael ask the TDC mouth piece/ commentator about the court case in Canterbury?

    We had this type of person on Berties site, couldn't win a hand bag fight at dawn.

    TDC lose millions and this person is quibbling over a Blogsite...he/she should really get out more?

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  26. Anonymous 10:14July 21, 2011 5:20 pm

    Michael, get on to your Councillor, and if he doesn't respond don't vote for him next time. The Council have democratic responsibilities, and there are established forms of redress if they don't comply.

    Let's face it, the problem is quite likely a lack of resources. Adding to their workload is hardly a solution is it?

    Anonymous 18:43 ... If only you knew, but I'm not telling. You keep going and you'll drown in your own ignorance. Perhaps it's you who should get out more and form your own opinions rather than suck up to Michael's all the time!!

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  27. Perhaps someone could enlighten me over these lost millions and where the money went?

    It was pointed out in full council the other week that TDC is actually so efficient in collecting money, around 96% - 98%, that it received a bonus from Government.

    If it's the Gazette story you refer to, then they headlined it on the front page but actually buried the important detail several pages further on, breaking down the unrecoverable bad debts by type; i.e. business rates, council tax, fines, no forwarding address, unpaid rents etc.

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  28. Ahh the little dear responds with

    "Perhaps it's you who should get out more and form your own opinions rather than suck up to Michael's all the time!!"

    The thing is I get out and about and I really do know what is wasted at TDC. I suggest you look up the lack of obtaining the right 106 financial agreements (at TDC) which are very weak, in fact the public are financing schemes when developers should be paying - a good example is the EKO and Spatial development company.

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  29. Anonymous 10:14July 24, 2011 7:30 am

    Good heavens Anonymous 10:21, there’s some evidence of your own point of view in your last post.

    I have to concede that I have little knowledge of your chosen subject. I trust you have complete knowledge of the facts surrounding such agreements, including evidence taken into account, policies that drive decisions, confidential negotiations with developers etc. Publishing some evidence would support your comments, assuming you have some and it’s not just your opinion.

    Just for the record I’m not little, and some would say I’m not dear either!

    ReplyDelete

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