Councillors should ignore ‘Stalinist’ ban on media contact – Pickles
New guidance from the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) that tries to ban parish councillors from speaking to journalists without prior permission from officials has been castigated in the strongest terms by the government.
NALC has written to 9,000 parish and town councils urging them to adopt the guidelines into their constitutions, meaning councillors who refuse to comply could be disciplined.
The guidance states:
- All journalists must contact the council clerk and may not contact councillors directly.
- Any contact by councillors with journalists requires the council’s prior written consent.
- Councillors cannot provide verbal or written statements to the media as a councillor without the written consent.
- Councillors are not permitted to use the title ‘councillor’ if giving comments in a private capacity.
It does add, though, that council business may be reported by the press without prior warning to the authority. But it adds “it is sensible for a council to have a policy to regulate its proactive or reactive communications with the media”.
Communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles, however, has called for the immediate withdrawal of the guidance.
He said: “Freedom of speech is a vital part of local democracy. Councillors must be able to challenge waste and inefficiency, and should not have to get permission from state officials to speak to the press.
“I am concerned that this Stalinist guidance will have a chilling effect on public life. I am making clear its contents are utterly opposed by the government and it should be withdrawn immediately.”
NALC chair Ken Browse rejected the accusation of “Stalinism”.
He said: “We want our 9,000 parish councils to have more dealings with the media. Councils are doing a brilliant job improving their area and we want the media to report that.
“Our 200-page book, ‘Local Councils Explained’, helps councils navigate their way through endless red tape, bureaucracy and arcane laws created by successive governments. It does not bar councillors from speaking to the media, but explains the legal framework that governs them.”
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