The BBC is boycotting a mayoral meeting in one of the UK’s most populous cities after the council banned a journalist for questioning a Labor politician who crossed the Atlantic to give a 14-minute speech on climate change.
Democrat journalist Alex Seabrook, who works for the BBC and Bristol Live website, had interviewed Labor mayor Marvin Rees about the ‘satire’ of traveling to Canada to give TED talks about saving the planet when he could do it on Zoom.
Mr Seabrook, who asked Mayor Rees why he saw fit to cross the Atlantic Ocean having previously announced a ‘climate emergency’ in 2018, will now not attend press meetings after his superiors accused the council of suppressing freedom of expression.
Some journalists have come out in support, with the BBC and other local media confirming that they will not send representatives to the mayor’s statement as he remains barred from attending and demanding the ban be lifted.
At a press conference, Saskia Konynenburg, head of communications at Bristol City Council, intervened, saying she did not agree that Mr Seabrook’s question about the mayor’s 9,200-mile-long carbon travel trip in April to air weather talks was ‘legitimate’.
Ms. Konynenburg describes herself as an ‘influential communications leader, focused strategist and content architect’ and was a journalist for only three months in her profession working in the public sector and charities, according to LinkedIn.
When Mr Seabrook said his job was to hold the mayor accountable, he replied: ‘I think it’s probably from a journalist from a newspaper, but I can’t quite see the LDR link, but I’ll leave it at that. ‘
At a press conference, Saskia Konynenburg, head of communications at Bristol City Council, intervened, saying she did not agree that Mr Seabrook’s question was ‘legitimate’.
Reporter Alex Seabrook (left), who works with the BBC and the Bristol Live website, interviewed Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees (right) about the ‘irony’ of his long trip to deliver a climate change talks.
Mayor Rees last year was described as an ‘abuser’ and ‘private’ after councilors – including members of his Labor faction – accused him of setting them aside and shutting down the debate.
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He also referred to the demolition of Edward Colston’s statue in the city as an act of ‘historical poetry’. In May 2022, a referendum was held in Bristol to decide whether the city should continue to be run by the mayor or the council-led committee system. The city voted 59% to support the termination of the post. Rees will continue to serve as mayor until 2024 before the post is vacated.
The Internal Democracy Reporting Service is a BBC-funded news agency, and journalists cover regional topics throughout the UK concerning local authorities and other public service organizations.
At a press conference from June 8, Mr Seabrook asked: ‘I want to say your TED talks were very interesting.
‘I wondered, first, if you saw the irony in flying so far for climate change, and second, why can’t you use Zoom instead?’
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Mr Rees said he felt ‘no joke’ because ‘mayors need to be involved in formulating national and international policies.’
He added: ‘We cannot let go of national politicians because they are overthrowing us, we saw that in the COP. Bill Gates was present.
“He was there to deal with climate change. Elon Musk was there.
‘So the question is, how do you get a bigger platform.
‘So how do you add a platform to that?
‘With the best of intentions in the world, finding it on the Bristol Live website would not give us that platform, would it?’
However, after finishing speaking, Ms Konyenburg suggested the question was not appropriate for Mr Seabrook to ask in his capacity as LDR.
He said: ‘In terms of your role as LDR, in my understanding, it would be to report and provide impartial coverage of the normal functioning of local authorities and public sector organizations.
‘My question is that Marvin was fully funded by TED to attend this conference, so I could not fully understand what the role in the LDR was to ask those questions?’
The reporter replied: ‘It is accountable to the people who lead the local governments, it is clear that the leader of Bristol City Council there were questions about the large amount of air left due to the flight so far. So I think that’s a valid question. ‘
Ms Konynenburg intervenes: ‘I think it probably came from a journalist from the newspaper, but I can’t quite see the LDR link, but I’ll leave it there.’
The Bristol Post today agreed not to send Local Democrats (LDR) journalists to events held by the mayor of Bristol City Council, a spokesman for the council said.
But they insisted that the LDR writers were not deterred.
It comes after a council boss slandered one of the journalists, part of a BBC-funded news service, – because he was ‘not a journalist from a newspaper’.
Saskia Konynenburg, head of communications at Bristol City Council, did not agree that the question on the mayor’s 4,600 carbon offensive to deliver climate talks was ‘legitimate’.
The question was posed by Internal Democrat Reporter Alex Seabrook, who works with the BBC and local Bristol publications.
A spokesman for the Bristol City Council confirmed that there had been a ‘long-term’ agreement that the authors would not be sent.
They said: “There has been a long-standing agreement between the Mayor’s Office and the Post Office regarding staff attendance at press conferences whenever they are announced and made, and that LDR will not be sent because of a narrow definition of their role as impartial.
However, this was disputed by Bristol Live editor Pete Gavan, who said: ‘In the past, we agreed to send other reporters with the mayor’s information where possible but reserved the right to send LDRs.’
The BBC said it was “deeply saddened” by the decision to bar Mr Seabrook from attending the meeting.
“We are deeply saddened by the decision taken by the Mayor’s Office not to allow Bristol LDR in its two-week press conference,” a spokesman said.
‘It is an important link in domestic democracy that journalists should be able to ask challenging questions to the people in power.
Marvin Rees speaks to protesters at Green College in Bristol against the EU and against Brexit
‘Today we have informed the mayor that the BBC will not attend the two-week meeting of the mayor until this important issue is resolved.
“We will continue to report on the City Council and the Mayor as usual by attending all other meetings.”
They were followed by local media outlets BristolWorld and Bristol24 / 7, both of which confirmed that they would not send journalists to cover a summary until the ban was lifted.
In a statement BristolWorld stated: ‘BristolWorld will not send representatives to the bi-weekly mayor’s press conference while Indigenous Democrat journalists in the area are barred from attending.
‘In the interest of transparency and transparency, it is important that journalists be allowed to interview Marvin Rees on all matters affecting our city.
“Suspending access to LDR journalists implies a level of control over who and who can not ask those questions, which we say is incorrect.”