Inner West Independent

Freedom of the Press?

Town Hall

Photo: Inner West Council and Pixabay.

Opinion by PETER HEHIR

It seems that the Inner West Council (IWC) has adopted a selective interpretation of a fundamental right in a democracy; freedom of the press.

It has always been the practice for each of the Councillors to be given a daily copy of a list of all published articles that relate to the goings on at the IWC and that reflect on the performance of the council, no matter how trivial.

The reason being is that each Councillor can be assured that he or she is up to date with any and all matters that they may be contacted on, either by a constituent, or by a member of the press.

It certainly seems to be a logical and necessary practice.

What is neither logical nor necessary; in fact I would suggest that a deliberate withholding of information by selectively removing any and all stories that are critical of the ALP Mayor, Darcy Byrne, is at the very least, a most undemocratic and undesirable practice.

I would go further and suggest that by screening out published material in an attempt to protect the Mayor’s reputation, is a dereliction of duty.

There have been six recent pieces that have questioned the performance of the Mayor. Two appeared in The Daily Telegraph and four in City Hub.

These were in relation to his huge unpaid rate bill on a property that he owns in Creek Street Balmain, his failure to declare debts well in excess of the maximum $500, his ownership of undeclared property on his IWC councillor’s declaration document, his alleged arrangement with the IWC in relation to paying the rate debt going back over five years –  which is believed to be well in excess of $15,000 plus interest, who the arrangement was made with, the inference that it was all incurred by his deceased mother, his published justification in a Telegraph article which seems to contain a number of inaccuracies and statements attributed to him which he has not yet satisfactorily substantiated or refuted and his refusal to provide information in relation to the suggestion that he is being given preferential treatment.

Darcy Byrne debts

Section of disclosures of interest form 2020/2021 from Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne

These are all questions that need answering, as well as just who is behind the attempt to remove any and all stories that are critical of the Mayor?

Is the General Manager of the IWC involved or is it just the Mayor’s PR crew that are weeding out the damaging material?

Although trivial in relation to the above, it’s worth noting that Byrne doesn’t even live in the Balmain ward that he represents – which isn’t illegal, it’s just undesirable.

The mayor is apparently overseas at present but Rategate doesn’t look like going away.

The questions above need investigating. At the very least the individual responsible for preparing the IWC Daily Media Report needs to provide information as to who is directing him or her to safeguard the mayor’s reputation.

Wendy Bacon, a Professor of Journalism and contributor of investigative articles to Alt Media and City Hub, has recently published the following;

“Concerns over the Mayor’s ability to deal with issues of accountability have arisen less than one year after the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal suspended him for three months from the previous Council for three misconduct breaches and two partial breaches of the NSW Local Government Act code of conduct. As a penalty NCAT suspended Byrne’s right to be paid any fee or other remuneration for his duties for three months.”

The matters raised in these six published articles do need to be independently investigated, as does Byrne’s and the IWCs handling of the de-amalgamation survey, which may well unearth more unsavoury details.

The Research Society is an association that sets industry code of conduct for the administration of surveys.

This code of conduct does make for interesting reading, suggesting that the firm engaged by the IWC to conduct the survey may well be in breach of Rules 10, 15, 33, 36, 37, 38, 46, 47, 48 and 49 outlined in the Research Society’s code.

A complaint is being prepared at present and will be lodged with The Research Society about the IWC’s survey for de-amalgamation.

Previous IWC Mayor Rochelle Porteous has stated:

“Having studied the online survey and been a participant in the phone survey, I consider it to be push polling at its worst. I have already communicated to the General Manger of the IWC that I am lodging a formal complaint”.

Related Posts