The council running one of Britain’s wokest cities was today accused of stifling free speech after banning a reporter asking a Labour politician why he flew across the Atlantic to give a 14-minute speech on climate change.
Local democracy reporter Alex Seabrooke, who works with the BBC and the Bristol Live website, questioned Marvin Rees about the ‘irony’ of travelling to Canada to give a TED talk about saving the planet when he could have done it on Zoom.
Mr Seabrooke, who asked Mayor Rees why he saw fit to jet across the Atlantic having previously declared a ‘climate emergency’ in 2018, will now no longer attend the press conferences after his bosses accused the council of stifling free speech.
In a toe-curling press conference, Saskia Konynenburg, head of communications at Bristol City Council, intervened saying she disagreed that Mr Seabrooke’s question on the mayor’s 9,200-mile carbon-spouting round trip in April to give a climate talk was ‘legitimate’.
Ms Konynenburg describes herself as an ‘influential communications leader, focused strategist and innovative content creator’ and was only a reporter for three months in her career largely working for the public sector and charities, according to LinkedIn.
When Mr Seabrooke said his job was to hold the mayor to account, she replied: ‘I think it probably is from a journalist from a newspaper, but I can’t quite see the link to LDR, but I’ll leave it there.’
In a toe-curling press conference, Saskia Konynenburg, head of communications at Bristol City Council, intervened saying she disagreed that Mr Seabrooke’s question was ‘legitimate’.
Reporter Alex Seabrooke (left), who works with the BBC and the Bristol Live website, questioned Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees (right) about the ‘irony’ of his long flight to deliver a talk on climate change
Mayor Rees was last year branded a ‘bully’ and an ‘egoist’ after councillors – including from his own Labour group – accused him of sidelining them and shutting down debate.
Bristol City Council was branded woke after it paid for purple lightbulbs to be installed to mark the death of George Floyd at a BLM vigil. The city’s mayor joined protests in his city against Brexit.
He also called the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in the city as an act of ‘historical poetry’. In May 2022, a referendum took place in Bristol to decide if the city should continue being run by a mayor or a council-led committee system. The city voted 59% in favour of abolishing the post. Rees will continue to serve as mayor until 2024 before the job is axed.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service is a news agency funded by the BBC, with reporters working on regional titles across the UK covering local authorities and other public-service bodies.
In the press briefing from June 8, Mr Seabrooke asked: ‘I want to say your TED talk was very interesting.
‘I wondered, firstly, if you saw the irony in flying so far for climate change, and secondly, why you can’t use Zoom instead?’
Mr Rees said that he felt that there was ‘no irony’ because ‘mayors need to be involved in shaping national and international policy.’
He added: ‘We can’t leave it to national politicians because they’re failing us, we saw that at COP. Bill Gates was there.
‘He was there to combat climate change. Elon Musk was there.
‘So the question is, how do you get the biggest platform.
‘Then it is how do you maximise the platform for that?
‘With all the best will in the world, getting it on the Bristol Live website isn’t going to give us that platform, is it?’
However, after he had finished speaking, Ms Konyenburg suggested the question was inappropriate for Mr Seabrooke to ask in his role as an LDR.
She said: ‘In terms of your role as an LDR, from my understanding, it would be to report and provide impartial coverage regarding the regular workings of local authorities and public sector bodies.
‘My question is that Marvin was fully funded by TED to attend this conference, so I couldn’t quite understand what the role is in an LDR asking those questions?’
Marvin Rees speaks to demonstrators on College Green in Bristol protesting in favour of the EU and against Brexit
The reporter replied: ‘It’s holding people who lead local authorities to account, obviously being the leader of Bristol City Council there were questions regarding the huge amount of carbon emissions from flying so far. So I think it is a legitimate question.’
Ms Konynenburg interjects: ‘I think it probably is from a journalist from a newspaper, but I can’t quite see the link to LDR, but I’ll leave it there.’
The Bristol Post today agreed not to send Local Democracy Reporters (LDR) to events held by Bristol City Council’s mayor, a spokesperson for the council said.
But they insisted that the LDR reporters were not barred.
It comes after a council boss blasted one of the reporters, part of a news service funded by the BBC, – because they were ‘not a journalist from a newspaper’.
Saskia Konynenburg, head of communications at Bristol City Council, disagreed that a question on the mayor’s 4,600 carbon-spouting trip to give a climate talk was ‘legitimate’.
The question was put forward by Local Democracy Reporter Alex Seabrooke, who works with the BBC and the local Bristol publications.
A spokesperson for Bristol City Council confirmed there had been a ‘long-standing’ agreement the reporters wouldn’t be sent.
They said: ‘There has been a long-standing mutual agreement between the Mayor’s Office and the Post about personnel attending press conferences whenever they are announced and held, and that LDR’s would not be sent due to the narrow definition of their role as an impartial service.’