Contact Officer: Sara Shepherd
This report is presented in response to a request by the Scrutiny committee at its June meeting, to review the council’s media guidelines, especially in relation to ward councillors and news releases.
The Leader introduced the Council’s Media Guidelines and Use report, which had been produced in response to this committee’s request in June to review the council’s media guidelines, particularly in relation to ward councillors and news releases.
The Leader noted that this was an area that was well defined by legislation, and as such was an operational matter.
The Communications and Marketing Manager presented an overview of the report.
The Chair invited the following members to speak regarding this item:-
Cllr P Harvey
Cllr C Regan
Cllr A McCormick
Cllr C Wooldridge
The speakers recounted a variety of anecdotes whereby ward councillors had been heavily involved in ward related projects, some over a number of years, but where Portfolio Holders had then been credited for the work in the local press.
The following comments and requests were made:
· That there be a stronger distinction between executive decisions and ward related projects. It was suggested that there appeared to be preference to highlighting work of Cabinet members over the remainder of the council;
· That there appeared to be a pro-administration bias as evidenced by sections 1.1. and 1.2 of the Executive Summary which stated that the ‘communications function is to promote the work of the council, within the approved budgetary and policy framework’;
· A request to quote ward members alongside the accountable person.
The Communications and Marketing Manager clarified that the Corporate Communications team had no political bias at all.
It was further stated that the distinction between launches and photo calls should be noted.
It was suggested that following the next elections which would result in 3 member wards, it would prove logistically difficult to include ward member quotes in addition to the accountable person quote.
The Corporate Communications team were praised by the committee for the work that they undertake.
The committee made a range of comments and suggestions:-
· A request to occasionally include residents in press releases where they have been heavily involved in local initiatives;
· A request for proper recognition and inclusion of ward councillors in press releases relating to specific local ward projects and initiatives;
· A requirement for any press release to be circulated to all members;
· A request to alert ward members to drafting of relevant press releases to ensure early awareness, if possible at least 24 hours in advance;
· A request that all ward councillors are invited to any ward related openings or launches;
· A revision of guidelines to ensure that where accountable persons are quoted there is no false assumption of credit for projects that there has been no involvement in;
· In particular to LIF applications, a request that the lead councillor originating or initiating an application be regarded as a first point of contact for any press release quote;
· Suggested inclusion of a risk analysis section within the guidelines in relation to pitfalls that councillors may unwittingly be susceptible to in dealings with the press;
· Understanding was expressed that there was sometimes a need for urgent press releases, however it was suggested that most featuring long term projects and initiatives may benefit from some ward or project related councillor comment.
The Communications and Marketing Manager felt that determining which councillor should be quoted in a three member ward would be timely and problematic should the councillors not be in agreement. Further, it was suggested that this may lead to significant work pressure given the restrictions of a small communications team consisting of four officers. It was further suggested that ward members could contact the press themselves to make a comment.
It was stated that in relation to LIF applications there would need to be more stringent and obvious criteria to allow the Corporate Communications team to identify and approach the correct contact.
The Leader cautioned that the Corporate Communications team should not be put into a position where they would need to determine for themselves who should be credited for particular projects.
Resolved: The Committee