You may have seen the headline this past week "Media banned from reporting on St. John's public meetings." This headline doesn't catch the nuance of of the situation, but the reaction from media and the public was real, and is an important lesson.
The City of St. John's is engaging the public on a plan for its parks and open space, and a release about public sessions around the project requested that media not record comments from participants.
Here's the first and most important point I will make. Media were never "banned" from reporting on these meetings. Nor will they ever be.
In fact, the first news article about the meetings and the media request quotes a City spokesperson explaining the intent:
"It’s really just to keep the process open, so people feel comfortable with saying whatever it is that they feel like they want to tell the city," [St. John's City spokeswoman] said. "We have done sessions like this before on other things. If media would like to come and be outside the room and then interview people after it’s over, that’s fine, no problem whatsoever. But we really want to keep the process open."
The point is that these are not typical public meetings where people get up one after the other and register their opinion.
Because in a dialogue we encourage people to pose questions that don't necessarily represent their point of view, but rather help explore an idea.
So why ask the media not to record individuals' comments? Because in a dialogue we encourage people to pose questions that don't necessarily represent their point of view, but rather help explore an idea. People should feel secure that they will not be accidentally publicly mis-represented.
It's important to understand what I'm saying here. Media are essential to a functioning and successful community. We need the media in our society, and in particular we rely on them to inform the public of meetings like these and the results that come from them.
All of council want the media to be aware of and attend these meetings, and we encourage them to report on what happens there. Period.
We're just looking for an approach that enables media to do their job while also enabling citizens to come together and openly discuss and shape our city's future.
p.s. I strongly encourage you to attend these meetings. They are about designing the fabric of our communities by planning our parks, open spaces, and trails. They will be fun and inspiring and could become the foundation of an extremely livable city.