Bath City

The council is accused of ‘censoring’ free speech in the local rant Bath City News

Allegations have been made that Bath and North East Somerset Council are ‘inhibiting free speech’ and ‘censoring’ speakers.

In the Bath Chronicle newspaper, letters refer to a recent change in the way things are done at council meetings. Previously, speakers submitted their speeches to the council in an effort to have accurate minutes.

Now locals claim they were told to edit their speeches before they could be read. Bath and North East Somerset Council said it was in their constitution and was just to remind people of the rules. Yet past practice has not seen this rule so rigorously followed.

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In a statement to Bath Live, the council said: ‘This is in the council’s constitution and we remind speakers of the agreed rules.’

In an open letter, Widcombe resident Gill Kirk said submitting a full speech could be a barrier to establishing a democratic community. She wrote: “I write with concern about this week’s rapid change in the interpretation of council guidance on what members of the public must submit before speaking.

“The new interpretation of the rules insists that anyone wishing to address the board must submit their entire speech in advance, rather than the main points they plan to make. I am a professional communication very well educated. I’m almost 50 and notoriously talkative. I spoke in council once on libraries under the last administration, and at work I coach very experienced professionals in public speaking.

“And I know without a doubt that people from all walks of life find public speaking daunting. Even me, with all my experience in the field. Mr. Godfrey, Advisers – have you forgotten how even the simple idea of ​​telling the board your point of view is intimidating to view perhaps?

“When you care passionately about an issue, feeling like this space isn’t ‘for me’ or ‘I’m not good at that stuff’ is even more intimidating.

“As you all know, the vast majority of people won’t do it proactively unless they really have to. You know, it’s often only at the door or in a public meeting of mass that the voices of the public are heard. everyone, by any stretch of the imagination.)

“So, without a doubt, this new requirement to submit your speech in advance is an additional obstacle and a new obstacle to democratic participation. Neither the select committees of Parliament nor the courts ask for the full text in advance when they hear evidence.

“Yet the setup, experimentally and psychologically, for people who are not used to counseling, is not that different. democratic access at the forefront of their minds.This forgetful, thoughtless slide – because I hope it is just that – is disappointing and exclusionary.

“I really hope you reconsider. Of course, it’s not about party politics, and council officers are above that. It’s much more important – it’s about access I ask you to apply a simple litmus test – does this change democratic access?

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Some advisers, in emails seen by Bath Live, said having written statements provided before meetings was helpful as they sometimes struggled to hear someone when they were speaking. Others said it was helpful to digest the speech before it was delivered. However, some pointed out that some residents may struggle to submit full speeches due to language or literacy barriers.

In another letter to the Bath Chronicle, Bob Goodman, a former adviser and cabinet member, claimed he had been “censured” by the new interpretation of the rules, and was told he could not read a speech he would have prepared.

He wrote in a letter: “There is an even more important issue imposed by this advice, which your readers must understand, and that is the prevention of free speech – and censorship if they are not d agree with what you have to say.

“At the council meeting last Thursday I was to speak about how a member of the Cabinet tried to pressure the planning officers to change their minds on the decision not to allow the development of poly tunnels, etc. in Weston This was highlighted in last week’s Chronicle which devotes an entire page to the events.

“I changed my speech because the council ‘dictated’ that I had to publish my speech otherwise I would not be allowed to speak. I fully accept that as part of the constitution of the council to speak, you must inform the advice from the subject. , which I did.

“I was then informed that they were preventing me from speaking (which they had never done to anyone before) unless I sent my statement to them before I was not allowed to speak to councilors and, of course, to the residents who might have listened.

“Anyone who has ever spoken at council meetings will have been asked to send in their statement which was intended to ensure the minutes were correct and NOT to censor what you have to say. This is the first time that someone is prevented from speaking unless he first releases his statement.

“I reluctantly agreed and sent it only to be emailed to say that my speech was unacceptable and unless it was changed I would not be allowed to speak. After a deep reflection, I changed my speech and I spoke in order to be able to expose what a dictatorship this council has become.

“It was very unfortunate that your local Democrat reporter, Stephen Sumner, left the day before as he would have been reporting on the chaotic events at this meeting and how we as residents are being treated. Stephen will be greatly missed. Can you imagine what would happen if those who made a statement to the House of Commons select committee were barred from speaking unless they published their speech.

“I have since been barred from speaking in front of a review panel, having registered on time but given 55 minutes to either submit my speech or not speak, which is completely unacceptable.

“It is nice to have the support of many councilors and I thank the Labor group for speaking out for me at this council meeting. This administration is preventing free speech and I hope your newspaper will speak out against them and will stand up for democracy and a free press.”

When Bath Live asked the council whether this was a rule change or a new interpretation, the council confirmed that it was in the constitution. They said: ‘It is in the council’s constitution and we remind speakers of the agreed rules.

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This notice was published: 2022-04-03 23:00:00

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