A national local government body is advising councillors not to talk to the press in a move branded ‘Stalinist’ by ministers.
The government is taking action over new guidance issued by the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) to all parish councils.
It advises all member councils to adopt a new “media policy” which bars councillors from speaking to journalists without the wriitten consent of the whole authority.
The guidance also urges councils to adopt rules banning journalists from contacting councillors directly, with all contact made through the council clerk.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles, whose department oversees English local government, has slammed the guidance as “Stalinist.”
Mr Pickles is writing to the NALC making it clear the communications advice is “completely inappropriate” and calling for its immediate withdrawal.
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 I am making clear its contents are utterly opposed by the government and it should be withdrawn immediately. We should be championing the independent free press, not trying to suppress it.”
The guidance, which has been circulated to 8,500 NALC members includes the following advice:
- 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 in their official capacity provide verbal or written statements to the media without the written consent of the Council.
- Councillors are not permitted to use the title “councillor” if giving comments in a private capacity.
Parish councils are being asked to adopt the guidance into their constitution and standards rules, meaning councillors could be investigated and disciplined if they do not obey.