Why Bristol mayor Marvin Rees’ jokes are no laughing matter

why bristol mayor marvin rees jokes are no laughing matter - Why Bristol mayor Marvin Rees' jokes are no laughing matter

Look at this line-up of the most powerful politicians in our city.

Mayor Marvin Rees, and, to his left, his deputy Craig Cheney.

In front of them, ex-council leader Helen Holland and the housing lead Paul Smith, both of whom are laughing gleefully at a joke by the mayor.

“Just joking, that’s just a joke,” smiles Mr Rees as he starts a public meeting of the city’s cabinet. And they all smile. “All very nice,” adds Mr Rees, as he turns on his microphone.

But all isn’t very nice.

Because the mayor is ridiculing another human being. In fact, some of those in front of Mr Rees are sneaking a look at the target of this so-called humour. He is sat on his own on the other side of the council chamber, trying to do his job while being publicly humiliated by Bristol’s political elite.

That person is Adam Postans. He is a journalist. And, today, Bristol Live is standing up for Adam.

The meeting began with what the mayor, still laughing at his own humour, called “a jovial start” – made, coincidentally, with the recording microphones switched off.

Seeing Adam, Mr Rees had joked: “Be great to have a journalist here”.

And how they laughed. This from a mayor who, in the same meeting, bemoaned the “downward spiral of the quality of our civic discourse”.

Civic discourse? In another context, Mr Rees’ attempt to publicly tarnish Adam’s reputation could be seen as slander.

It was certainly a breach of the council members’ code of conduct which, under a section entitled “Respecting others”, advises members that they should “Always treat people with respect, including the organisations and public you engage with.”

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why bristol mayor marvin rees jokes are no laughing matter 2 - Why Bristol mayor Marvin Rees' jokes are no laughing matter

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But it didn’t stop there. Nine minutes later, Mr Rees couldn’t resist using his time in the chair to go further: “Might I also say to any journalists who might be listening somewhere out there on the internet that we don’t allow our political bias to be put on full display.”

Craig Cheney dutifully smirked.

Did you get it? There are no journalists here, Adam, but perhaps there are some listening to the webcast of the meeting.

The reference to a “bias”, by the way, was a sideswipe at Adam’s completely acceptable engagement with some of the administration’s political opponents on Twitter.

A turgid 57 minutes later, Mr Rees and cabinet member for waste Steve Pearce again used the meeting to target Adam. They both deliberately over-emphasised the words “Reuse and Recycling Centre” as the meeting discussed the Hartcliffe Way refuse facility. Looking to his boss for approval, Pearce added: “I will say that again, a household reuse and recycling centre. Not a tip. And not a dump.”

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Steve Pearce, cabinet member with responsibility for waste, commercialisation and regulatory services (Image: Bristol City Council webcast)

All of this was choreographed to ridicule Adam, who had been challenged before the meeting for referring to the facility as a “dump” and a “tip” in a story highlighting the fact that its cost had almost doubled.

Pearce handed back to Mr Rees, who couldn’t resist one final and very overt dig at Adam. “I’m glad you made the point about this being a reuse and recycling (sic). I saw some really poor writing that described it as a tip, a city dump. It’s not a dump and I’m sure you’d agree that that is an appalling way of describing a critical intervention in the way the city relates to, manages and processes its waste.”

Someone really ought to tell the mayor that the council’s own website tells Bristolians how to find their “nearest tip”.

why bristol mayor marvin rees jokes are no laughing matter 4 - Why Bristol mayor Marvin Rees' jokes are no laughing matter

Despite the mayor’s criticism, Bristol City Council refers to “tips” on its own website (Image: Bristol City Council)

Despite being the brunt of these comments, Adam was unable to reply or defend himself. Instead, he worked on stoically through the jibes, even trying to laugh off some of them on Twitter.

But, by his final tweet, he was clearly worn down by the treatment: “Meeting is brought to a close. Part of that was massively unpleasant and aimed directly at me.”

Why would the people who run our city pick on an individual in this way?

The clue is in Adam’s job. Adam works for the Local Democracy Reporting Service. He is an employee of the Bristol Live but his role is funded by the BBC and is designed to hold UK local authorities to account by bringing extra reporting scrutiny to council business.

There are 150 Adams across the UK. Their content is shared on a BBC wire and used by thousands of media partners (of which the Bristol Live is one).

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Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter (Image: David Betts Photography)

Bristol City Council’s ruling administration seems to have taken great exception to this new scrutiny.

Such exception, in fact, that the council complained about one of Adam’s stories to the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The complaint did not even pass the first hurdle.

But the background to this unsavoury behaviour is irrelevant.

That the people who run our city would behave in this way towards another human being, in plain sight, is reprehensible.

It is an abuse of the public platform which their roles bestow upon them.

And that’s the point here. Adam is not just a journalist. He represents the public, who pay his wages – and the wages of the people mocking him. When Mr Rees and his cronies ridiculed Adam, they were ridiculing all of us and our right to scrutinise council business.

Adam, who has been a qualified journalist for 24 years, was the only reporter at the meeting.

These people would clearly prefer his seat to remain unoccupied. They want to control the narrative of how the council’s business is reported, laced with their own nuances and no mentions of overspends or attribution.

But we cannot let that happen. That is why, today, we are standing up for Adam.

Because standing up for Adam is standing up for decency, fairness and our right as the public to hold the actions of our civic leaders to account.

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