A council accused of giving “one sided, party political and confrontational” press statements has been told to “respect” the role of local newspapers.
A report by the Welsh Local Government Association expressed “concern” at the way Carmarthenshire County Council deals with local journalists in a report into transparency at the authority.
It includes allegations that the council, which is run by an Independent-Labour coalition, threatened to withdraw planned advertising from local newspapers due to disagreements over editorial coverage.
The review comes after several run-ins between journalists, bloggers and the authority in recent years.
Then in March 2013 blogger Jacqui Thompson, who had been arrested two years previously for filming a council meeting, was ordered to pay £25,000 damages to the chief executive after losing a libel suit.
The report states: “The review team heard concerns that the council’s press statements were one sided, party political and confrontational on occasion.
“The review team also heard concerning suggestions that the council had previously threatened to withdraw planned advertising from local newspapers due to disagreements over editorial coverage, though these suggestions are contested by others.
“Whatever the evidence for the different perspectives held, the review team considers that constructive engagement with local media should be a key priority for the Council in delivering its ambition around openness and transparency.”
The report also urged an “open and transparent” authority to respect the role of an independent press in its duty to scrutinise, investigate and provide critical narrative and challenge to both the council and its executive.
It adds: “Whilst the executive working through the press office will properly seek to ensure that the views of the council and its executive are accurately reported, the executive of an open and transparent council will not seek to suppress or censor the activity of an independent press and media.
“It is critical in the interests of openness and transparency and engaging with the wider community of Carmarthenshire however that a mutual respect and constructive relationship is maintained.”
Among the WLGA’s specific recommendations were that the council clarified its policy on advertising through local media and review its approach on public engagement.