Politics

Simon Danczuk Threatened To Pull Out Of A Hustings In Rochdale If BuzzFeed News Attended

The organiser of the event said his "hand had been forced" after Danczuk threatened to pull out, and asked BuzzFeed News not to attend. After facing a backlash he reversed the decision and said a journalist would be welcome at the event.

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Simon Danczuk threatened to pull out of a hustings event in Rochdale should any BuzzFeed reporter attend, following the publication by BuzzFeed of a story about his election paperwork.

Organiser Damien Maddock initially withdrew his personal invitation to the #RochdaleHour business lunch, saying "his hand had been forced" after Danczuk said he would not attend if any journalist from the organisation showed up, but reversed his decision after facing a backlash from the other candidates and local media outlets.

Maddock said he had taken their views on board, and reissued the invitation, saying: "After thinking about it and listening to the thoughts of others I would like to officially invite you to the event tomorrow."

The move to ban BuzzFeed was criticised by the freedom of expression group English PEN, which said: "One reason why free speech is so important to a democracy is that it ensures diversity of voices and opinion in our political discussion. When organisations limit media access, they limit that diversity and go against the spirit of free speech."

Last week BuzzFeed News reported that Danczuk's ex-wife Karen Danczuk insisted he did not live with her, despite his election paperwork stating otherwise.

The story also questioned tweets Karen Danczuk had posted in which she described an exchange on the doorstep that differed significantly from the reporter's audio recording of the conversation.

When the reporter contacted Karen Danczuk to ask her to account for the discrepancies, she accused BuzzFeed News of attempted blackmail and said she was going to the police over the issue.

The hustings event, due to take place on Tuesday at Cocka Doodle Moo in the centre of Rochdale, is to be hosted by a local business networking group called #RochdaleHour.

Simon Danczuk is due to speak for five minutes alongside Conservative candidate Jane Howard, Lib Dem Andy Kelly, Labour's Tony Lloyd, and Andy Littlewood from Greater Manchester Homeless Voice to an audience of local businesspeople and individuals, including Karen Danczuk.

On Monday the BuzzFeed reporter who was due to attend received a message from Maddock asking BuzzFeed not to come, in which he apologised and said his "hand had been forced" after he received messages from both Simon and Karen Danczuk in which they threatened to pull out of the event.

Maddock said: "I've just had some messages from the Danczuks threatening to pull out if you or BuzzFeed attend.

"Something about police action etc. Really sorry to mess you about but as he is one of the speakers I really need him to attend.

"Once again thank you in the first place and I'm sorry my hand has been forced."

In a follow-up statement, Maddock added: "We are grateful to all the speakers for taking the time to come and speak to the local businesses at #Rochdalehour and because of this we choose to respect their wishes."

After BuzzFeed made the decision public, Danczuk's main rivals all criticised the ban, and other media outlets – and one of the other speakers – said they would not attend.

Rochdale Online editor Pauline Journeaux said: "Rochdale Online was attending but has now taken the decision not to do so in light of the ban on BuzzFeed. A stand has to be taken against this sort of anti-democratic behaviour."

Liberal Democrat candidate Andy Kelly told BuzzFeed News: "I don't think it should be up to any one candidate to say which journalists should be at the event, and if the organisers want to let them do so I'm not interested in going."

"I don't know if that will help me in the long run, but it's the right decision, a principled decision," he added.

A Labour Party spokesperson told Rochdale Online: "It is deeply concerning for a candidate to be allowed to prevent a well respected, bonafide news organisation from attending."

Conservative candidate Jane Howard told BuzzFeed News it was "unfortunate" that Danczuk had been allowed to dictate which media organisations could and could not attend.

She said: "Any registered media outlet should be able to attend, and I'm disappointed that you're not able to do so."

Robert Sharp, spokesperson for English PEN, said: "These reports are very worrying. Political events should be open to all journalists, not just those who file positive stories about a candidate.

"It is odd that this should be happening during a general election, when the political parties are surely seeking to broadcast their message to as many people as possible.

"Candidates for political office need to reassure voters that they are open to scrutiny. Selectively refusing journalists access to events is not the way to build public trust."

He added: "If a politician thinks they have been unfairly treated by one outlet, then a better response would be to invite a greater range of journalists to cover future events."

Once BuzzFeed News was allowed back into the event, Rochdale Online's editor Pauline Journeaux said she would also send a reporter to cover the hustings, and Andy Kelly said he would also attend.

Simon Danczuk did not respond to BuzzFeed's request for comment.

Hannah Al-Othman is a News Reporter for BuzzFeed UK and is based in London.

Contact Hannah Al-Othman at hannah.al-othman@buzzfeed.com.

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