from Sunday Herald, 21 July 2013
An Aberdeenshire councillor is facing a reprimand for giving a television interview on council premises about Donald Trump’s controversial golf resort.
The Green councillor, Martin Ford, believes he is being punished for being critical of the US property tycoon and his plans for the Menie estate on the northeast coast. He accuses the council leadership, which backs Trump, of trying to control interactions between councillors and the media.
“This is not North Korea,” he told the Sunday Herald. “The notion that the council authorities should get to decide which councillors can speak to which journalists is absurd - and dangerous.”
Ford argued that it was “routine” for councillors to give media interviews at the council. “I have done so myself many times before - but this is the first time I have had a threatening letter from the council's chief executive the day after broadcast,” he said.
“It is inconceivable that if the council leader had given an interview praising Trump that he would be being threatened with disciplinary action. So this isn't about giving an interview as such - it's about ensuring that only the leadership's view is heard. That is wholly unacceptable in a democracy.”
Aberdeenshire’s chief executive, Colin Mackenzie, summoned Ford to a meeting with the council leader, Conservative Jim Gifford, the day after he appeared in the BBC Panorama programme, ‘The Trouble with Trump’, on 8 July. The programme suggested that the value of the land Trump had bought had rocketed from £7 million to an estimated £100 million.
Panorama also claimed that Trump had spent just £25 million on his golf development, despite having hailed it as a £1 billion project. Instead of creating 6,000 jobs as promised, he had only delivered 200, it said.
In the broadcast, Ford was shown agreeing with the suggestion that Scotland had “been had” by Trump. He also recounted how the council infrastructure services committee he formerly chaired had rejected Trump’s plan on his casting vote in 2007, before it was given the go-ahead by the Scottish government.
Mackenzie told Ford he wanted to see him “to discuss the unauthorised use of council premises for a production of the Panorama programme”. Ford did not attend a meeting, but instead asked Mackenzie to put his concerns in writing.
Mackenzie then argued that it was “a matter of courtesy and good practice” to seek his agreement prior to the use of any council building for pre-planned radio or television interviews. He was “disappointed” that Ford had not done this and wanted him to clarify his position before deciding on any further action.
“Any move to require press interviews at the council to have prior agreement from the chief executive - especially for something the council leader might not like - is highly inappropriate.”
Johnston added: “Onlookers would see council attempts to control press access or speak freely as frankly silly and unworthy of the authority. But this appears to many to be what the Trump debacle has done to the leadership of the council.”
Mackenzie defended his actions. If Ford had attended a meeting “we would have had the opportunity to discuss how, as a matter of courtesy, I would have expected to have been advised of his intention to use the council's HQ as a location for his interview with BBC Panorama,” he said.
He denied wanting to control what Ford said. "The subject matter of the interview was not the issue,” he told the Sunday Herald. Councillor Gifford did not respond to a request to comment.
The Trump Organisation criticised Panorama’s figures, insisting that to date it had invested more that £67 million in the golf resort. Further investment would come if an offshore wind farm proposed nearby were cancelled, it said.