PARRY SOUND – A local man has been denied access to town council meetings where only traditional media is permitted.
In a letter to town council, dated January 3, Josef Bossart requested, “personal media privileges to cover official town events” and permission to record portions of those functions for posting on his websites.
“Parrysounds.com regularly reports on activities in the town, with timely pre and post meeting coverage of council proceedings,” wrote Bossart. “This also includes meetings and activities that are generally not covered by the traditional print and broadcast media…the intention is to provide the residents of Parry Sound with coverage of town events that compliments the news provided by the traditional media.”
Tuesday, council accepted and agreed with a report and recommendation from deputy clerk Jackie Boggs, which denied Bossart that request.
“Research has provided that the City of Toronto, among many others, provides formal accreditation to news outlets and makes press gallery space available to all journalists employed by a media outlet accepted into the accreditation process,” wrote Boggs in her report to council.
Town CAO Rob Mens added, “Social media has opened wide the doors of reporting and commenting on public affairs. Parameters are necessary though and the relatively straight forward approach by the City of Toronto, after consultation with 16 municipal governments, is that to be considered media ‘journalists (must be) employed by media outlets…who are assigned to cover city-related news and events on a regular basis. Without some criteria, and in our case, the criteria recommended in this RR, anyone who has a social media site could be considered media of some type or other. While this has not and is not a significant issue in the Town of Parry Sound, adopting the recommended policy establishes guidelines that will be applicable for some time into the future.”
Prior to council voting on the report, Bossart made a deputation to council, again requesting he be allowed to attend and record at meetings where only the media is approved to be present.
“In part the recommendation, rested on the staff observation that Toronto does not extend such privileges to non-traditional media. While the report did note that the comparison was not perfect, they still felt it was appropriate. I beg to differ. Not only does Toronto have a population of some five hundred times greater than that of Parry Sound, it is home to dozens of traditional – and possibly hundreds – of non-traditional media. I can understand this policy, they already have considerable coverage on their events at the local, provincial, national and international level – everybody looks at Toronto it’s a world leader.”
Email, Twitter, webcasts
Bossart went on to say that Toronto offers email updates on council and committee activities, and uses Twitter to keep the public informed.
He also suggested council could offer next-day webcasts of its meetings, as is done in Sudbury. He has asked council to consider using these formats to update Parry Sound ratepayers.
“I would ask that my request for media privileges be held to the same standard that council and staff hold themselves to with respect to media outreach. I was particularly surprised that staff would benchmark Parry Sound against a southern Ontario city. We are a proud, northern Ontario town. I suggest we be careful about identifying ourselves as anything but,” Bossart said. “I believe there is a role in Parry Sound for non-traditional media, I hope you’ll reject the staff recommendation and approve my request.”
Coun. Dave Williams said he had no problem with Bossart attending and recording meetings.
“I certainly heard Mr. Bossart’s deputation and agree that the comparison to Toronto may not be appropriate,” said Williams. “I would say also that Mr. Bossart has a funny way of asking for our support. I was thinking it’s like telling your mother you don’t like her cooking, then asking her for dinner at the same time. That being said, I don’t think we’re Toronto at all, I read this, although what works in Toronto, works in Toronto, I don’t see any problem with Mr. Bossart being granted media privileges. Really, all he’s asking for is to be able to record portions of the meeting, and I can’t think of anymore than one meeting a year that he’d be excluded from. I do not support this direction, but do support his request.
“I think in a small town like this we’re lucky to have someone who has their ear to the ground, who’s wanting to pay attention to what’s happening. If you don’t subscribe to Cogeco, or don’t purchase the newspaper, or don’t happen to have the radio on, then you’re not going to hear from this. I think that the more people that are interested and the more ways we get to those people, the better. I don’t think a fear of more requests is anything that should stop us from approving this.”
Boggs clarified that she was not comparing the town to Toronto in size, funds or staff, but the research the city conducted regarding traditional media versus non-traditional media.
“What we’re doing is looking at the research they did on this question. This is a very pertinent question; it’s one that many municipalities are asking themselves,” Boggs said. “There are lots of people who like to do, as Mr. Bossart does, and have a website and provide comments on various things; in this particular case our municipal council; and there are other issues that he talks about too. The question is, what is a media representative, and in this case, Toronto has asked 16 cities all across Canada, what their opinion is and their opinion is, it’s someone who’s affiliated with a media outlet. I’m just suggesting that we extend the invitations to those who are attached to media outlets to the radio station, the newspaper and Cogeco.”
Coun. Paul Borneman also said he supported Bossart’s request.
“Some of what Mr. Bossart has said is pretty accurate, there isn’t – I say this with all respect to the traditional media who are here tonight – they’re not always available, there’s only a certain amount of material that’s made available to the public,” Borneman said. “I think in the case with the media, either we provide it directly, or it comes second hand through a second source. Personally I think we’re doing our very best to act appropriately and above the board. I have no fear of someone, whether it’s councillor Saulnier, Mr. Bossart or someone else blogging about the items we discuss in council.”
Coun. Brad Horne disagreed.
“My concern is where would the requests end, if we approve this and certainly I would see no end to the requests that we would be dealing with, that’s just my concern,” Horne said.
Council approved Boggs’ recommendation, denying Bossart’s request, with councillors Borneman and Williams opposing the report.