A senior regional editor and a leading journalists’ organisation have joined in condemnation of a bid to stop councillors talking to the press, branding it “an outrageous attack on democracy.”
As reported on HTFP yesterday, the National Association of Local Councils is advising 8,500 parish councils to adopt a new “media policy” which bars councillors from speaking to journalists without written consent.
The guidance also urges councils to adopt rules banning journalists from contacting councillors directly, with all contact made through the council clerk.
In a blog post, Peter wrote: “It is completely outrageous to suggested that people who are elected to represent local communities cannot speak to a journalist – not even their local paper – without being stifled by red tape.
“Imagine trying to get a comment on a local issue and having to wait for a council meeting to approve permission for the relevant people to say something on behalf of those who elected them.
“The worry is that I’ve already come across councils here in the North-East which don’t like us talking to councillors and say we should direct our questions to paid officers. We’ve politely told them to get stuffed.
“Councils and governments want to control the media and write their own headlines. We must never let that happen. ”
The move also came under fire from the Chartered Institute of Journalists with Amanda Brodie, chairman of its Professional Practices Board, calling it “an outrageous attack on democracy.
“The requirement to get written consent from the entire council before even giving a simple quote to a reporter, will make it impossible for journalists to do their jobs properly,” she said.
“Any organisation which spends public money must be transparent in its dealings, and co-operation with the press is a vital part of that process. These guidelines amount to a gagging order on councillors and simply must not be tolerated.
“Parish councils are the bedrock of local reporting and councillors must be free to approach journalists with concerns they may have, without fear of being disciplined for doing so.
Added Amanda: “What we have been seeing in so many other sectors of public life recently is the whittling away at access to information, with workers being told that all comments must go through press offices or official channels. This leads to sanitised and often distorted reporting of the facts.
“This is death by a thousand cuts for our democracy and must be challenged – we are delighted that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has announced his support for press freedom by opposing this move.”
Mr Pickles has called on the NALC to withdraw the guidance and has urged councils to ignore it.