Strabane District Council has informed the NUJ that the press is still welcome to attend its committee meetings.
The clarification by the county Tyrone council was welcomed by the NUJ as good news for media freedom and the public interest. In recent weeks journalists were informed of a proposal to stop the press from attending the council's committee meetings. On hearing this, the Derry and North West Branch of the NUJ wrote to the council and councillors torequest a meeting to express their members' concerns.
In the letter, the branch secretary, Anton McCabe, said the council had been
helpful to the NUJ's members in the past and said that closing committee meetings to the public and press would not be in the public interest and would hamper reporters from doing their job.
The council promptly wrote back to the branch to inform it that the council was not going to close its meetings. It explained: "As part of our normalbusiness proposals, a proposal was developed by officers which regretfully was released before it was fully considered as an option. This option was
not presented to Council nor was it considered at Committee."
The council's correspondence added: "The public and press remain welcome, as they have always been, to attend committees of Strabane District Council."
Welcoming the council's clarification, NUJ President Barry McCall said:"Strabane council's correspondence is good news for media freedom and the public interest. The NUJ's members now know that they can continue to do their job and serve the public interest by covering the business of these committees."
Barry McCall continued: "I would congratulate Derry North West Branch for its vigilance and for raising its concerns promptly with the council. The branch's rapid action in writing to the council resulted in clarifications and written assurances that should ease our members' concerns. I would also thank the council for its quick response to the branch."
However, the NUJ President called on journalists in Ireland and Britain to be vigilant about media access to council information.
He said: "There have been problems in other councils, with media access to committee meetings
being restricted. Where this has happened it is unacceptable. Any journalist who finds themselves barred from attending council meetings of any type should contact the NUJ as we will continue to campaign for media freedom in the public interest."