Rob Ford delivers a speech to media in June, 2013. Photo by Ben Spurr.
A city councillor says it was undemocratic for Mayor Rob Ford to exclude some journalists from his first post-rehab speech on Monday, and is taking steps to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Councillor Paula Fletcher has put a motion on next week's council agenda that would direct that no accredited members of the City Hall press gallery be excluded from any media conference at a city facility.
Fletcher argues that it was improper for Ford to ban reporters from an event that took place at City Hall and was supported by taxpayer-funded security and audio visual staff.
"This isn't the mayor's building," she says. "Council needs to direct that city space be used in a democratic manner and that access is equal.
"We have a press gallery here. They pay rent. And to say those press aren't invited in the very City Hall in which they pay rent, that's just not right," she adds.
On his first day of work following a two-month leave of absence to deal with addiction issues, Ford stirred controversy by limiting the number of reporters at his highly anticipated comeback address.
Despite widespread interest from the media, Ford and his staff held the event in the small protocol lounge in the mayor's office at City Hall, which has a capacity of only about 25 people. They argued that due to safety concerns only a limited number of journalists could be allowed in, but wouldn't explain why it couldn't be moved to a larger venue.
NOW Magazine and the Metroland Media group of community papers, both of which are accredited members of the press gallery, were among those left out, even though Metroland's David Nickle is president of the press gallery. Most non-local media were also barred.
NOW editor/publisher Michael Hollett welcomed Fletcher's motion, and predicted that Ford's "ham-fisted attempted to manage the media will not be successful."
"I find it appalling that instead of managing his own actions, the mayor is more committed to attempting to manage the media. We at NOW will get the news out with or without Rob Ford's cooperation," Hollett said in an emailed statement.
Nickle says he was "pleasantly surprised" by Fletcher's gambit, but thinks it should be expanded to include all interested media, not just members of the City Hall press gallery.
The decision by selected journalists to attend Ford's speech has sparked debate among journalists and the public, with some arguing that reporters should have boycotted the event rather than let the mayor's office select who was in the room.
While Nickle led discussions within the gallery about a possible boycott, he always hoped it wouldn't come to that because "we do owe it to our readers and viewers and listeners to get the story as best we can." Rather, he hoped the threat that journalists would stay away would force the mayor's office to accommodate all media. In the end however, not enough members of the gallery were on board with a boycott for it to be effective.
Nickle is disappointed that some commentators think the gallery rolled over for Ford, but he points out that many reporters included the mayor's attempt to manipulate the press as part of their coverage of the speech.
"On Monday what the story turned into was a story of both the mayor's speech and his behaviour as he returned. And part of his behaviour was barring members of the media," he says. "I don't think the mayor was able to control his message nearly to the extent that he may have hoped."
Fletcher's motion will go before council on Wednesday. It will need the approval of two-thirds of council to go to a debate, otherwise it will referred to the next meeting of the government management committee.