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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Election purdah is not an excuse to shut down democracy

The Chartered Institute of Journalists has condemned a decision by the Greater London Authority to shut out the media and general public from London Assembly and Mayor of London meetings on knife crime.

The CIoJ says the GLA has wrongly applied an over-strict interpretation of electoral purdah restrictions during local elections in London Boroughs.

Institute Vice-President, Professor Tim Crook, says: “The House of Commons would not dream of sitting in private because there’s a by-election in Barnsley, or elections for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh or Northern Ireland assemblies.”

The CIoJ has issued a complaint to the Electoral Commission that the GLA did not allow journalists or the public to attend the London Assembly meeting on knife crime in the capital on April 11.

The same exclusion happened in relation to the Mayor’s Summit at City Hall on April 10, which was discussing the same issue and which was attended by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan as well as a number of high-profile politicians and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

The number of people who have been fatally stabbed in London during 2018 has now reached at least 35.

Professor Crook says: “Election purdah is not an excuse to bring down the shutters on democracy. We believe that the apparent view of the GLA’s monitoring officer of electoral law is wrong, and the Local Government Association briefing on Purdah Guidance is being interpreted inappropriately.”

FOI request

The CIoJ has also made a Freedom of Information Act request for all emails, documentation and minutes of meetings relating to the media exclusion decision.

In response to the Institute’s complaint, Karim Aziz of the Electoral Commission replied:

“The Commission had no role in the setting or adherence to the rules on purdah.”

He added: “I can confirm that the Greater London Authority did not consult with the Electoral Commission before they took their decision. The Commission does not have any information as how the decision was arrived at by the Greater London Authority.”