Sutton council accused of censorship in 'propaganda' row

Sutton council accused of censorship in 'propaganda' row

Sutton council accused of censorship in 'propaganda' row

First published in News Sutton Guardian: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Reporter

The council has been accused of censoring questions from members of the public after a woman was banned from using the word 'propaganda' in a meeting.

Sharon Thomson submitted a question to the Sutton Council ahead of Monday night's full council meeting.

In her original question, which related to a leaflet distributed by Liberal Democrats earlier this year regarding parking problems in Belmont, she asked: "Was just pre-election propaganda or is it your genuine intention to resolve the ongoing parking issues?"

But when this was addressed to councillors at Monday night, recorded in the meeting's minutes and in the meeting's agenda, the words 'was this just pre-election propaganda or' were removed.

The decision to remove the offending words came from the council's monitoring officer but has been criticised by opposition councillors.

A council spokesman said: "In this instance part of the question was judged to attribute improper motives to others with the use of the word propaganda. 

"Rather than rule the entire question out of order the monitoring officer removed the offending phrase, this did not affect the sense of the question which was answered by the chair of the environment and neighbourhoods committee."

Under rules set out in its constitution, the council is able to return questions the monitoring officer deems 'vexatious, irrelevant, improper, defamatory, frivolous or offensive'.

Councillor Tim Crowley, leader of Sutton's Conservative opposition, said: "Lots of people died to allow freedom of expression and freedom of speech. Of all the parties, the Liberal Democrats should be standing up for that.

"They may say it  doesn't matter because the gist of the question hasn't been changed, but that's not the point. They've allowed use of worse words during council meetings in the past.

"I'm worried that this is a precedent which has been set to try to censor the residents of this borough when it suits the administration."

Comments (11)

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4:54pm Wed 23 Jul 14

Niki R says...

Why would the Liberal Democrats stand up for free speech when it was Tom Brake who co-wrote the Lobbying (Gagging) Bill that threatens to silence campaign groups and charities?
Why would the Liberal Democrats stand up for free speech when it was Tom Brake who co-wrote the Lobbying (Gagging) Bill that threatens to silence campaign groups and charities? Niki R
  • Score: 12

5:30pm Wed 23 Jul 14

Mr Flange of Wallington says...

Yellow is their party colour for a reason.

Next they'll be banning people from asking questions they find it uncomfortable to answer. Oh, wait, that's what they've done.
Yellow is their party colour for a reason. Next they'll be banning people from asking questions they find it uncomfortable to answer. Oh, wait, that's what they've done. Mr Flange of Wallington
  • Score: 15

7:00pm Wed 23 Jul 14

whysaythat says...

I thought that 'Incinerator' was the only word the yellow perils had censored.

Then I remembered 'Town, Centre and Development were also on the list a while back.

Mr Burstow also took offence to any sentence including 'care home'
I thought that 'Incinerator' was the only word the yellow perils had censored. Then I remembered 'Town, Centre and Development were also on the list a while back. Mr Burstow also took offence to any sentence including 'care home' whysaythat
  • Score: 9

10:16am Thu 24 Jul 14

Georgia Lewis says...

After the farce of the LibDem-dominated Healthwatch public meeting/propaganda lecture last week, this comes as no surprise...
After the farce of the LibDem-dominated Healthwatch public meeting/propaganda lecture last week, this comes as no surprise... Georgia Lewis
  • Score: 1

2:29pm Thu 24 Jul 14

Emily_Brothers says...

I also asked a Question at Monday’s Council meeting, asking how the Lib Dem administration ensures all shades of opinion are heard in Sutton. I raised this for many reasons, not least because of the flawed consultation over cuts to Council services, the recent Healthwatch Lib Dem joint venture and other poor examples of engagement, such as planning decisions over the Henderson Hospital The Lib Dems should apologise to Sharon Thompson for treating her very proper challenge with such contempt. The Lib Dems waffle on about supporting civil liberties, but in reality they just take a liberty with people’s trust.
I also asked a Question at Monday’s Council meeting, asking how the Lib Dem administration ensures all shades of opinion are heard in Sutton. I raised this for many reasons, not least because of the flawed consultation over cuts to Council services, the recent Healthwatch Lib Dem joint venture and other poor examples of engagement, such as planning decisions over the Henderson Hospital The Lib Dems should apologise to Sharon Thompson for treating her very proper challenge with such contempt. The Lib Dems waffle on about supporting civil liberties, but in reality they just take a liberty with people’s trust. Emily_Brothers
  • Score: 1

2:44pm Thu 24 Jul 14

Pippa Maslin says...

Sutton Council should issue an apology to Sharon Thomson and it should be published in the Sutton Guardian.
Sutton Council should issue an apology to Sharon Thomson and it should be published in the Sutton Guardian. Pippa Maslin
  • Score: -1

3:48pm Thu 24 Jul 14

D Hoole says...

Possibly a poor decision by whoever created the post of 'monitoring officer'. Does that person do anything else in the time we pay for? Definitely poor judgement by that officer on this occasion I think. S/he decided councillors could take offence, when in reality they could just have said, "Yes, it is our genuine intention to resolve the ongoing parking issues". Unles of course, they couldn't say that !
Possibly a poor decision by whoever created the post of 'monitoring officer'. Does that person do anything else in the time we pay for? Definitely poor judgement by that officer on this occasion I think. S/he decided councillors could take offence, when in reality they could just have said, "Yes, it is our genuine intention to resolve the ongoing parking issues". Unles of course, they couldn't say that ! D Hoole
  • Score: 0

7:58pm Thu 24 Jul 14

Monstermunch17 says...

Emily_Brothers wrote:
I also asked a Question at Monday’s Council meeting, asking how the Lib Dem administration ensures all shades of opinion are heard in Sutton. I raised this for many reasons, not least because of the flawed consultation over cuts to Council services, the recent Healthwatch Lib Dem joint venture and other poor examples of engagement, such as planning decisions over the Henderson Hospital The Lib Dems should apologise to Sharon Thompson for treating her very proper challenge with such contempt. The Lib Dems waffle on about supporting civil liberties, but in reality they just take a liberty with people’s trust.
This really is something and nothing. The suggestion of foul play was taken out of the question, (ie the suggestion that this was pre-election propaganda), but the underlying essence of the question remained 100% intact. It just had the dig removed, which, while it may have raised smiles at the time, is probably best when a cold, hard reading of the facts is required.

The conservative councillor's response, invoking people dying to protect freedom of speech, was just plain embarrassing.
[quote][p][bold]Emily_Brothers[/bold] wrote: I also asked a Question at Monday’s Council meeting, asking how the Lib Dem administration ensures all shades of opinion are heard in Sutton. I raised this for many reasons, not least because of the flawed consultation over cuts to Council services, the recent Healthwatch Lib Dem joint venture and other poor examples of engagement, such as planning decisions over the Henderson Hospital The Lib Dems should apologise to Sharon Thompson for treating her very proper challenge with such contempt. The Lib Dems waffle on about supporting civil liberties, but in reality they just take a liberty with people’s trust.[/p][/quote]This really is something and nothing. The suggestion of foul play was taken out of the question, (ie the suggestion that this was pre-election propaganda), but the underlying essence of the question remained 100% intact. It just had the dig removed, which, while it may have raised smiles at the time, is probably best when a cold, hard reading of the facts is required. The conservative councillor's response, invoking people dying to protect freedom of speech, was just plain embarrassing. Monstermunch17
  • Score: -1

8:41am Fri 25 Jul 14

Paul Scully says...

Monstermunch17, the change did not make a massive difference to the question but that's not the point. It is not up to council officers to second guess what members of the public are trying to say. Let them say it and let the responsible councillor answer the question. This sets a precedent that most people should feel uneasy about. Coupled with the Healthwatch meeting farce and the fact that we were told on Monday that the Chairman of the Education Committee was "not at liberty" to tell us what sites the council have been looking at for a new school, I wonder what the point of council meetings are. We could just get a letter telling us what the council have decided is best for us all and save everyone the pretence of open government.
Monstermunch17, the change did not make a massive difference to the question but that's not the point. It is not up to council officers to second guess what members of the public are trying to say. Let them say it and let the responsible councillor answer the question. This sets a precedent that most people should feel uneasy about. Coupled with the Healthwatch meeting farce and the fact that we were told on Monday that the Chairman of the Education Committee was "not at liberty" to tell us what sites the council have been looking at for a new school, I wonder what the point of council meetings are. We could just get a letter telling us what the council have decided is best for us all and save everyone the pretence of open government. Paul Scully
  • Score: 1

9:36am Fri 25 Jul 14

adrianshort says...

Ironically, even with the word "propaganda" removed the question as asked had exactly the same sentiment: was the pre-election pledge to lower parking charges genuine or not? That's a fair question and I can't see how using the word "propaganda" makes it any more or less acceptable.This kind of tone policing is a great way to exclude people from debate who aren't professional politicians or activists who've spent years learning the acceptable euphemisms for misconduct.
Ironically, even with the word "propaganda" removed the question as asked had exactly the same sentiment: was the pre-election pledge to lower parking charges genuine or not? That's a fair question and I can't see how using the word "propaganda" makes it any more or less acceptable.This kind of tone policing is a great way to exclude people from debate who aren't professional politicians or activists who've spent years learning the acceptable euphemisms for misconduct. adrianshort
  • Score: 4

11:10am Fri 25 Jul 14

Giles C says...

Monstermunch17 wrote:
Emily_Brothers wrote:
I also asked a Question at Monday’s Council meeting, asking how the Lib Dem administration ensures all shades of opinion are heard in Sutton. I raised this for many reasons, not least because of the flawed consultation over cuts to Council services, the recent Healthwatch Lib Dem joint venture and other poor examples of engagement, such as planning decisions over the Henderson Hospital The Lib Dems should apologise to Sharon Thompson for treating her very proper challenge with such contempt. The Lib Dems waffle on about supporting civil liberties, but in reality they just take a liberty with people’s trust.
This really is something and nothing. The suggestion of foul play was taken out of the question, (ie the suggestion that this was pre-election propaganda), but the underlying essence of the question remained 100% intact. It just had the dig removed, which, while it may have raised smiles at the time, is probably best when a cold, hard reading of the facts is required.

The conservative councillor's response, invoking people dying to protect freedom of speech, was just plain embarrassing.
Can i ask Monstermunch why the councillors comment was embarrassing?
Surely he was correct in that freedom of expression and speech is what we fought for in at least the second world war...
Why should unelected officials be allowed to censor a question especially when it isnt vexatious..
I would rather have the councillors view than that of the council officers..
[quote][p][bold]Monstermunch17[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Emily_Brothers[/bold] wrote: I also asked a Question at Monday’s Council meeting, asking how the Lib Dem administration ensures all shades of opinion are heard in Sutton. I raised this for many reasons, not least because of the flawed consultation over cuts to Council services, the recent Healthwatch Lib Dem joint venture and other poor examples of engagement, such as planning decisions over the Henderson Hospital The Lib Dems should apologise to Sharon Thompson for treating her very proper challenge with such contempt. The Lib Dems waffle on about supporting civil liberties, but in reality they just take a liberty with people’s trust.[/p][/quote]This really is something and nothing. The suggestion of foul play was taken out of the question, (ie the suggestion that this was pre-election propaganda), but the underlying essence of the question remained 100% intact. It just had the dig removed, which, while it may have raised smiles at the time, is probably best when a cold, hard reading of the facts is required. The conservative councillor's response, invoking people dying to protect freedom of speech, was just plain embarrassing.[/p][/quote]Can i ask Monstermunch why the councillors comment was embarrassing? Surely he was correct in that freedom of expression and speech is what we fought for in at least the second world war... Why should unelected officials be allowed to censor a question especially when it isnt vexatious.. I would rather have the councillors view than that of the council officers.. Giles C
  • Score: 1

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