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Don’t talk to the press, local councillors told

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 I am making clear its contents are utterly opposed by the government and it should be withdrawn immediately.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.

20 comments

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  • June 19, 2014 at 8:47 am
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    I would laugh, if it wasn’t so desperately sad. Who does NALC think it is to order elected representatives ofthe public to obtain permission before speaking to the press?…Another Leveson inspired idea?

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  • June 19, 2014 at 8:52 am
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    How to completely lose touch with the people who elected you..

    Who are these people… and who elected them?

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  • June 19, 2014 at 9:05 am
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    Pretty easy response from the press to this.

    Standard paragraph – ‘We asked Councillor xxx for a comment, but he/she refused to respond to a legitimate question relating to their constituents’ concerns. We were referred to the council clerk, a paid civil servant who is not an elected representative, who said….’

    Perhaps these people should be embarrassed into doing what’s right.

    Seems they’ve gone all Vicar of Dibley on us.

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  • June 19, 2014 at 9:06 am
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    This is ourageous – what on earth do NALC think they are doing? So pleased to see Mr Pickles championing our press in this way – this is an attack on democracy that cannot be allowed.
    Any organisation which spends public money must be publicly accountable and that means a free and open dialogue for everyone. Our elected councillors must be able to speak out without fear of reprisals. And our reporters must not be hindered in doing their jobs.
    Amanda Brodie
    Chairman, Professional Practices Board, Chartered Institute of Journalists

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  • June 19, 2014 at 9:22 am
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    “Councillors are not permitted to use the title “councillor” if giving comments in a private capacity.”

    Surely that’s a decision for the paper, who would most likely refer to them as a councillor – highlighting their public status – anyway.

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  • June 19, 2014 at 9:26 am
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    Our county council used to telephone us and complaint if we spoke to councillors without clearing it through the press office first. They soon gave up making those phone calls, though.

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  • June 19, 2014 at 9:37 am
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    When I was a reporter I used to phone up MPs and cabinet ministers unannounced on their personal mobile numbers. I’d ask a question and they would reply there and then.

    Able politicians do not mind fielding questions from the press because they are intelligent and articulate enough to do so. Sadly this advice is a reflection of the low quality of those in local government these days.

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  • June 19, 2014 at 9:55 am
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    Some councillors already adopt this approach.
    One Conservative councillor at Peterborough City Council refused to answer a simple question about how he would have voted in a leadership challenge. He was on holiday and missed the meeting.
    But he told me he wouldn’t answer the question, stating: “I’m on holiday and it’s not compulsory at anytime! I answer to the electorate thro the ballot box not the media!”
    The discussion, via Twitter, went on for some time and ended in a foul rant – on his part.
    I never got an answer to the question. I reckon the NALC maybe pushing at an open door.

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  • June 19, 2014 at 9:59 am
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    When I worked as a reporter there were times when it was helpful to call the clerk for information but comment always came from councillors as they’re the elected representatives who made the decision.

    It was nine years ago but Bucks had a policy where the press office did not field questions for county councillors, they had to do it themselves and rightly so.

    Have councillors suddenly become too delicate and foolish to think on their feet?

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  • June 19, 2014 at 10:13 am
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    What on earth is going on? Parish clerks are not elected and not accountable via the ballot box. Are councillors now completely incapable of thought and speech without being spoon-fed?
    We are talking parish council – dog poo and playing fields – hardly requiring a spokesman on their behalf.
    Our local borough council tried this once, but soon gave up as all the local journalists ignored the ‘rule’ and continued to speak to the elected members regardless. That is what we’re here for.

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  • June 19, 2014 at 10:55 am
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    The old saying “ignore it and it will go away” seems the best course of action here. Many councillors like the sound of their own voices, so I can’t see them complying. The whole idea is a nine-day wonder that will go away when both sides choose to overlook it.

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  • June 19, 2014 at 11:11 am
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    haha!

    As if anyone would be even remotely interested in anything a parish councillor might have to say about anything ever.

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  • June 19, 2014 at 12:45 pm
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    Agreed Bluestringer, I was once advised by a town councillor and election agent not to ask one of his party’s parish council candidates any political questions because she was ‘quite old’ and ‘wasn’t very political’.

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  • June 19, 2014 at 12:45 pm
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    So presumably they are waiving their right to reply on any stories critical of the council?

    Smart move.

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  • June 19, 2014 at 1:31 pm
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    As well as the day job I’m also a Parish Councillor so does that mean I have to go through the Parish Clerk to speak to myself….all very confusing for me now!

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  • June 19, 2014 at 2:13 pm
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    Big Problem – as Htfp is technically a member of the press you should probably have obtained your own permission before posting on this story.

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  • June 19, 2014 at 2:29 pm
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    It won’t last. Councillors are so full of their own puffed up self-importance they’ll be clambering over each to get to the nearest microphone or notepad to score some tenuous political point or other.

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  • June 19, 2014 at 5:18 pm
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    ……………….Getagrip – you’re right, I’m even more depressed now!

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