Trainee reporter stands up for freedom of the press

A trainee reporter has managed to successfully challenge a motion from a council leader to exclude him from an important meeting.

Lawrence Dunhill from the Bucks Free Press, who just sat his NCE exams, was covering a meeting of High Wycombe's historic Charter Trustees that oversee the town's traditional mayoralty. Due to a row between the current and previous mayors, the leader of Wycombe District Council tried to pass a motion to exclude the press and public from the meeting.

However when the mayor, who was chairing the meeting, asked Lawrence to leave he pointed out that they must state a reason for exclusion and a majority must pass a formal motion. Ultimately he was allowed to stay and listen to the next instalment of the volatile dispute.

Speaking about the episode, Lawrence said: "It was surprising that the attempt came to exclude us, but it was encouraging that other committee members spoke out when I questioned it.

"I had just been on an NCE refresher course a few weeks before this meeting, when a scenario very similar to this came up in a mock exam question."

BFP editor Steve Cohen said: “This is exactly the type of gumption reporters need to show when challenged with such restrictions. It's important that authorities remember we are not there simply on behalf of the press – it's the public we are representing.”

Lawrence is not the only NCTJ trainee to successfully challenge a motion recently. Stephanie Jones-Berry, a recent graduate from City College Brighton and Hove, managed to get a Section 39 order lifted, which had prevented her from naming parents that had been convicted of baby cruelty charges to their five week old daughter.

In her first challenge to a court order, Stephanie, a reporter with the Surrey Advertiser, argued in a letter to the judge that the child was so young that she was unlikely to be affected by adverse publicity and that naming the parents was also in the public interest. The Section 39 was lifted during sentencing of the couple, who were both convicted for causing permanent brain damage and multiple fractures to their baby girl.