Councillors not banned from speaking to journalists, despite national guidelines

COUNCILLORS will not be gagged from talking to the News despite national guidelines for town and parish councils appearing to forbid journalists speaking to them without consent.

Advice by the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) suggests the press should contact the clerk rather than a councillor directly and that written consent should be sought before an interview.

It also advises councils to adopt a policy to deal with the media.

Sarah Robson, clerk at Chard Town Council, said the council does not have its own media policy and added: “In theory, councillors can speak to the press but they have to work within the code of conduct and not say anything that brings the council into disrepute.

“If they are expressing a personal view, we advise them not to use their councillor title.

“However, if they do, we have no sanctions or measures we can impose. I did try to introduce a policy a couple of years ago but members did not feel that it was needed.”

The guidelines emerged last month with Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles describing them as “Stalinist”, warning of a “chilling effect on public life.”

Cllr Ken Browse, chairman of NALC, rejected the accusations, saying the group wanted its 9,000 parish councils to have “more dealings with the media”, not fewer.

He said the guidance was published last year and “does not bar councillors from speaking to the media, but explains the legal framework that governs them”.

Ilminster Town Council clerk Joy Norris said: “We have our own media policy, which does not stop councillors talking to the press but we ask that any contact is co-ordinated through the town council’s office.

“We will not say: ‘No, you can’t talk to them’ or gag them but we ask for things to be coordinated with the clerk.

“The clerk and the Mayor are the official spokespeople for the council, but there may be times where somebody else is better placed to comment on something.

“Our policy is online for both journalists and councillors to look at.”

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