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Press gag for councillors planned

Newspapers in the Walsall area may soon be unable to speak to borough councillors without prior clearance from the local authority’s press office.

Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council has drawn up the proposals, which would mean all statements made by its councillors would have to be cleared before being released to the media.

The proposals have been described as a gag which would prevent councillors representing their constituents.

Local editors are assessing the impact such a move could have.

Natalie Missenden, editor of the Walsall Advertiser, said: “The proposals were drawn up by a committee and we were not consulted.”

Natalie also said that she has not yet been in touch with other local papers but may join forces with them to discuss the move.

Sam Holliday at the Tamworth Herald and Mike Caldicott, of the Walsall Chronicle, were aware of the proposals but were waiting for more news.

Coun Ken Worley told a borough council committee meeting: “There are times I have to criticise the council and I think that I have the democratic right to do that.”

Coun Jonathon Phillips added that the proposals would be impractical for public meetings.

He said: “I would hate to be in the situation where someone said ‘what do you think, councillor?’ and I would have to say, ‘Can you wait until I have spoken to the council’s press officer?'”

Council officers who drew up the committee report said that the changes would help prevent the council from making conflicting statements and prevent it “being brought into disrepute”.

The proposal states: “No elected member is permitted to issue a press release or statement, or organise a press conference, concerning council business or operations without press office involvement.”

Some other councils already use such policies, but local politicians in Walsall have criticised the idea.

The proposals will next be discussed in September after they have been sent to all council members for consultation.

Do you have a story about the regional press? Ring 0116 227 3122/3121, or
e-mail pastill@nep.co.uk