“This event is closed press.”
We can tell you from experience in the newsroom that we’ve seen this phrase all too often on emails from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office since he first took office in 2014.
Normally, this phrase is applied to various events on the mayor’s daily public schedule. But of late, it’s become something of a motto for the de Blasio administration — specifically when it comes to public meetings about community jail plans for Kew Gardens and other neighborhoods of New York City.
Last week, the mayor himself attended a recent meeting about the Kew Gardens jail proposal — and of course, that event was “closed press,” too. Were it not for a recording confidentially provided to us from an attendee, we would not have known what the mayor told a Queens community asked to bear the brunt of a new jail.
In recent weeks, meetings of a community advisory council on the Kew Gardens jail were also closed to the press, despite the boisterous objections of council members who rightly believe that reporters’ attendance was necessary to inform the public about the matter.
When asked why the press was being kept in the dark at these meetings, city officials offered the most asinine of excuses: that the presence of reporters would stymie a real conversation about the Kew Gardens jail, and prevent community residents from saying their piece about the subject.
To have a real conversation on any important issue requires a knowledge of information about the issue — but that’s difficult to achieve if reporters are prevented from gathering information about the issue, and then telling the public about it.
Moreover, it sends a terrible message to the council members and the public at large — that they can say what they want at a meeting, but they cannot share their remarks outside of that forum. It’s the city’s way of controlling the narrative, and skewing public opinion about the project.
The press ban is both a dangerous precedent and an insult to the public’s intelligence.
When he first ran for mayor in 2013, de Blasio pledged that his administration would be far more open than his predecessors. We’re not sure what his definition of “openness” is, but it’s certainly nowhere close to the actual Webster’s dictionary definition: “the free expression of oneʼs true feelings and opinions.”
It’s time for the public to no longer allow the de Blasio administration to insult their intelligence by keeping the press in the dark. Call the Mayor’s Office at 212-788-7585 and urge him to lift the reporter ban on community advisory council meetings on the Kew Gardens jail plan.
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