A number of complaints have been made against Radio Scilly recently – so we asked the station’s MD Keri Jones to tell us all about it.
“For the past six years we’ve had a card from our local council every Christmas.
But not this year. There’s a new big cheese – quite a few actually. Let’s call it a cheese board. And I don’t think we’re best friends any more.
Our little station serves 2,100 people living on five tiny islands 28 miles off Cornwall. It’s a sub-tropical paradise, like living in a Lilt commercial and politically, it is nothing whatsoever like a banana republic. Nothing. It really isn’t. Honestly.
There are no political parties so all councillors are independent. They say and do what they wish. That’s good for news because there’s never a dull moment. As you might imagine, power groupings emerge and whether the islands’ media is ‘friend or foe’ depends on who is currently in control and how you have reported their activities. The current political elite were all over us when we were reporting the downfall of their enemies. Then there was regime change. Now the new gang are under scrutiny and we’re viewed in the same way that the janitor viewed the Scooby Doo Van occupants – as ‘meddling kids’.
But unlike Velma and Shaggy we haven’t exactly been poking around in deserted fairgrounds. We take our reporting seriously. We go to all Council meetings and we’ve sent lots of Freedom of Information requests, used leads from documents leaked to us and we’ve quoted rogue councillors. Those councillors have been warned by the big cheeses not to talk to us, which naturally encourages the rebels to talk to us even more.
Why do we this? It’s because it’s all in the public interest. We’ve uncovered secret and sizeable pay awards to Council management when the rest of the UK has been on austerity cutbacks. Nobody would have known about it if it wasn’t for Radio Scilly.
We’ve also revealed that the islands’ waste incinerator breached EU safety levels for years. It was spewing out dioxins at 800% legal levels. And it was adjacent to allotments. The UN says dioxins cause caner. The Council knew, but kept it quiet. We didn’t. The site has now been shut down and is being levelled. Again, only we had this story.
One of Radio Scilly’s key commitments is to stimulate local debate. I think we’ve done that. But Council managers now appear to think that if they ignore our requests for a comment, the story will go away. Inviting the new Council boss to dinner didn’t help forge a relationship. A few weeks later emails were not returned and we no longer get sent press notices on statutory matters. We had to check posters to see when they are going to turn off the islands’ water for repairs! It’s possibly not just us. ‘backbench’ councillors tell us they feel similarly “out of the loop”.
And so on to the first of a number of Ofcom letters of 2014. We emailed the Council for a comment on a breaking story at 8pm on a Sunday evening. We were running it from 7am on the Monday morning. They replied at 11am on Monday saying they’d get back to us. That’s the last we heard from the Council – until they complained to Ofcom that we’d treated them unfairly because we hadn’t given them enough notice. Ofcom told them to grow up and kicked it out. I’m paraphrasing, of course.
Since then the Council’s newly appointed legal officer has become Ofcom’s new best penfriend. Recently we revealed that they hadn’t followed legal process over a hosepipe ban. They turned down our interview request and issued a verbose response. I wasn’t going to read a ‘Yes Minister-style’ statement at 7am and I certainly wasn’t going to pay a voiceover to do it. So we used a computer voice to read it – a wordy statement – word-for-word. More Ofcom complaints followed. All were rejected.
The icing on the cake was a verbal attack on our team by our former Council press contact. We were having a Christmas Eve drink in the pub with the Islands’ police team when that happened. For witnesses, police officers really are the best. They felt it was a public order offence. I was more concerned that he used the two words that Ofcom says you should never say at 6 o’clock in the evening, if at all. Now who do I complain to?
In all seriousness, the islands’ Council has wasted a great deal of time and public money finding things to complain about us to Ofcom, so far unsuccessfully. It is a waste of our time, too. It’s never been about any inaccuracy, and if it were, we would want to get it right. We’re at every Council meeting and always reachable. They tend to nit-pick at our editorial treatment which, as I have made clear to them, remains our call. And Ofcom agreed.
So look out Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin readers! I suspect we’ll be in print again in 2015 as we continue to report on how our Council is/isn’t delivering services and spending the public purse.
We have no idea how much public money and time has been spent pursuing us. But I suspect they’ll save the ratepayer a few quid again in 2015… when it’s time to send out the Christmas cards again.
Keri Jones is Managing Director at Radio Scilly