A regional daily editor has welcomed a move by councillors on his patch to reject plans to stop them talking to journalists.
As reported last week, the National Association of Local Councils has issued guidelines to 8,500 town and parish councils saying councillors should not speak to the media without written permission.
The guidance, which has been condemned as ‘Stalinist’ by communities secretary Eric Pickles, also recommends that all journalists must contact the council clerk and should not get in touch with councillors directly.
However the leaders of three Labour-controlled town councils in Bolton have ruled out adopting the guidelines as part of their constitution – a move welcomed by Bolton News editor-in-chief Ian Savage.
He told HTFP: “The guidelines from the NALC suggesting town and parish councillors should not talk directly to journalists are nonsensical.
“It is heartening to see that our local town councillors appear to agree with me and have openly criticised and rejected the advice.
“It’s not often that a Labour politician will agree with Eric Pickles, but it looks like – in Bolton at least – they have found some common ground when it comes to these guidelines.”
Mr Pickles has called on the NALC to withdraw the guidelines and has urged councils to ignore it.
Speaaking to the News, leaders of Bolton’s three town councils agreed that the rules could cause problems.
Horwich council leader Kevin McKeon said that although it “goes against the grain”, he agreed with Eric Pickles on the matter.
He added: “I wouldn’t want my communications to go to be vetted by members of another party on the council, it would be terribly cumbersome, with lots of delays.
“If I wanted to say something to a reporter that other members didn’t agree with, would I then be censored?.
Deputy Mayor of Blackrod Town Council Stephen Laycock believes the policy would “go against localism”.
He said: “It seems like it would stifle democracy and freedom of speech — if it is someone speaking on behalf of the council then yes that should be agreed, but if a journalist calls me for an individual opinion I should be able to express it.”
Leader of Westhoughton Town Council David Chadwick said: “Speaking personally, it is not something I would support — I just think councillors need to communicate properly with local reporters, as I do with The Bolton News.
“It’s essential to communicate, even if sometimes the questions they ask are awkward.”
However Ken Browse, chairman of the NALC, defended the guidance, stating it actually wanted parish councils to “have more dealings with the media”.
“It does not bar councillors from speaking to the media but explains the legal framework that governs them,” he told the News.