I place huge value on the freedom of the press, as I hope that every democrat and member of Parliament does. Perhaps that is a note of consensus that we will be able to strike in this question session.
These were the words of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament today in response to a question from the Labour leader, Richard Leonard.
He asked her: “What value does the First Minister place on the freedom of the press?”
She replied: “I place huge value on the freedom of the press, as I hope that every democrat and member of Parliament does.”
Nicola Sturgeon is being economical with the truth. The First Minister doesn’t give a monkey’s about the freedom of the press.
If she did she would pull the controversial leader of the SNP administration on West Dunbartonshire Council, Cllr Jonathan McColl, into line. He has no respect for the truth.
And tell him to sort out the fact that the Council via its Chief Executive, Joyce White, has taken sanctions against The Dumbarton Democrat by refusing to answer our questions on any subject at all.
And attempting to ban us (I use the editorial we here) from the council chamber at the newly refurbished, £15 million old Burgh Hall, because we criticised it for being unfit for purpose, which it has been shown to be on a number of occasions.
In other words, we pointed out that it was a place in which the public could neither see not hear what was happening at what were supposed to be public meetings.
And there was no provision at all by way of a press bench to facilitate media personnel taking notes for publication in their media and journals.
At their last meeting in Clydebank, Mrs White even sent a council officer to tell us that we could not have a glass of water from the same jug as councillors during a meeting which lasted six hours.
They want us to pay more than £200 a year to join IPSO, a press regulator, despite the fact that our editor has been a bona fide journalist with an unblemished record of reporting local government for almost 50 years and is an Editor Emeritus of the Society of Editors and a Life Member of the National Union of Journalists.
He has won the Scottish Journalist of the Year Award three times, and has a number of other industry and other awards to his credit. He has also been a Special Adviser at (a Labour) First Minister’s Office.
Perhaps she agrees with the Conservatives at Westminster who sacked a media adviser on the spot and unceremoniously marched a young woman official out of Boris Johnston’s office at 10 Downing Street this week?
It appeared this week that the Council’s Communications Office has decided to up the ante against The Democrat by failing to send us their media releases.
The Democrat is a digital platform which we launched nearly two years ago. Its readership figures reflect the fact that it is appreciated not just in Dumbarton but across Scotland. We are not huge, but we are not tiny either and we admit that we are not well disposed to the SNP or the Conservative Party. We have also given Labour a hard time when we felt it necessary.
And while we may be robust in our criticism of many of the Council’s decisions – and the actions of officials recently caught up in a graft and corruption inquiry by the police – we feel we are as even handed as we should be.
It is the role of the press to scrutinise those people elected to public office.
The SNP in particular should grow up and accept we are living in the 21st century.
Nicola Sturgeon should tell West Dunbartonshire (and Helensburgh) SNP to get their house in order and to drop this ban and boycott and to introduce again the usual customs and practice for making public bodies open and transparent to the Press.
They cannot expect to choose which members of the Press cover their meetings and what opinions they print for public consumption unless they are defamatory, of course.
All we have done is to tell the truth about the questionable way West Dunbartonshire Council goes about its business, which is far from commendable.
When The Democrat decides in the public interest, as the Sunday Mail did by publishing the shocking story of Allan Marshall this week, who died after being held in custody in prison, to bring to public attention what it considers to be in the public interest, that should not be frustrated by ill-advised and small minded naysayers such as the SNP administration and public officials who are obsessed by secrecy.
These are the same people who redacted (blanked out) some 87 pages of a report on the graft and corruption allegations against council officials.
That should not be happening and Nicola Sturgeon should be doing something about it while Jonathan McColl, the lily-livered SNP leader in West Dunbartonshire, chooses to ignore it.