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Editor’s view: Blocking us from hospital meeting was undemocratic

PUBLISHED: 08:00 06 December 2018

Queen Mary's House. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK

Queen Mary's House. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK

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Farcical news situations #300: writing a 900-word report on a meeting we weren’t allowed to enter.

That’s what we found ourselves doing after being told in no uncertain terms that we weren’t welcome at an otherwise open meeting about Queen Mary’s House.

In a way this was predictable: whether or not the public (and by logical extension the local press) was invited seems to have been a confusing matter for the hospital.

The trust’s chair Sir David Sloman kicked off proceedings by telling the Heath and Hampstead Society that “all local residents and community groups” were welcome at the meeting, which had been requested by Tulip Siddiq. He should know, right?

Except when people started making noises about the scant notice with which said meeting had been called – understandable given the strength of public feeling about the subject in question – the trust said there was no need to panic because those who couldn’t make it weren’t invited anyway: only official groups were going to be there.

Vague notions that a second meeting might be called, this one open to the public, were abandoned when we confronted the hospital with its own chair’s original message, at which point it relented and told us we could invite the public (or “residents”, to use the lingo) after all. When we tried to invite ourselves, however, it wasn’t so straightforward: the trust said not only was the meeting going ahead at short notice, but those who couldn’t make it and were planning to rely on the Ham&High to be their eyes and ears could get stuffed, because we weren’t going to be let in.

Public bodies have no business barring the press from anything to which the public are invited (or, as I argued last week, from information there is no legal basis to withhold). But as the tradition of public relations becomes more powerful and the standing of the press is gradually eroded, this sort of thing is becoming more and more common. It is undemocratic.

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