10:45AM, Friday 30 June 2017
‘Those who matter don’t care, and those who care don’t matter’. I’ve always found those to be wise words in a profession where people often say nasty personal things about you. And, thanks to social media, often say them very publicly.
Journalists pretty quickly develop thick skins. You have to. Over the years I’ve been insulted, sworn at, defamed, threatened – over the phone and in person – and even cursed to burn in hell because, apparently, Jesus hates me. Yep, you meet all sorts in local newspapers.
But I try not to let it bother me. We stick our heads above the parapet so the odd bit of abuse goes with the territory. And all the really nice people you meet more than make up for it.
It starts to be a problem, though, when those who really should know better also dish the same abuse out to ordinary members of the public.
Take for example the conduct of a particular elected councillor, MJ Saunders, the cabinet member for finance who is frequently rude and aggressive to anyone he disagrees with on social media.
He has long waged a petulant Twitter campaign against the Advertiser. He doesn’t like us holding the council to account and frequently accuses me of bias and questions the integrity of myself, the paper and its reporters. Up until now I’ve tended to treat his irrational rants with the contempt they deserve.
But on Sunday, after a sustained Twitter tirade over several days in which he’d described me as ‘dodgy’ (that’s going to be my new rap name), and accused us of misleading readers, he suddenly ‘implored’ us to work with him.
I replied by pointing out he’d established his credentials as someone we’d want nothing to do with. The response was a quick-fire barrage of bile which plumbed new depths even for him.
Ordinary members of the public who came to our defence were subjected to similar treatment, prompting at least two of them to lodge formal complaints about his conduct (since rejected by the monitoring officer).
He finally shut up about 10pm, probably when a responsible adult took his phone off him.
The next day the leader of the council said a social media policy for councillors would be introduced. Really?
Councillors already have a code of conduct that calls for high standards of behaviour and warns against behaving in an abusive or threatening way, or making allegations about people in public.
If an elected member can’t control themselves or needs to be told when their conduct is simply unacceptable it raises serious questions about their fitness for any public office, let alone a senior cabinet post.
Is a social media policy really going to make the slightest difference to Cllr Saunders?
I doubt it. If he wants to carry on tweeting like that he should resign before he brings the council into further disrepute.
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