Media and Publicity Protocols
In 2001, the national Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity was amended to include changes in local authority constitutions introduced by the Local Government Act 2000. These amendments were approved by Parliament and a new Code has been issued. Local authorities are required to 'have regard to the provisions' of this Code in the way we approach communication.
The Code gives guidance on communications between communities, individual people and local authorities and aims to foster effective and impartial communication.
Principles and Protocols
The Authority undertakes to maintain a full and steady flow of information to the media so as to ensure:
- continued public awareness of the services provided by the authority and the functions it performs
- advance and ongoing publicity on matters of public interest
- those affected by the Authority's decisions, policies and priorities are given the information to understand them and to have a real and informed say about them
The principle of executive decision-making and accountability will be reflected in the Authority's media liaison arrangements. In particular:
- media statements on Authority decisions will be made by the appropriate member (or their substitute), the Chairman of the Authority or issued on behalf of the entire Authority
- interviews on Authority decisions will only be given by the appropriate member of the Authority, their substitute or the Authority Chairman
The Authority will be given relevant support, advice and training to enable them to play a proactive role in presenting issues to the media, explain their work and manage controversial issues covered by the media.
Where the Communications Team is asked to draft press releases or letters on behalf of the Authority, such releases/letters will be of a factual nature and will contain nothing that could be construed as politically motivated or biased.
All official Authority press releases will be issued by the Communications Team in the standard format.
The work of the Review Panel is an important and integral part of the new political arrangements. In relation to this protocol:
- media statements and interviews on Review matters will be made by the convenor of the relevant panel, their substitute or, if appropriate, by the chair of the Review Panel
- interviews on Review matters will be given by the convenor of the Review Panel, their substitute or, if appropriate, by the chair of the Review Panel.
Members of the Review Panel and the Chair of the Review Panel will be offered relevant support, advice and training to enable them to play a proactive role in presenting issues to the media and explain their work.
Where a minority report is released by a member or members of an Review Panel, media statements will be the responsibility of those issuing the report.
Where the Communications Team is asked to draft press releases/letters on behalf of the Review Panel, such releases/letters will be of a factual nature and will contain nothing that could be construed as politically motivated or biased.
All official Review press releases will be issued by the Communications Team in the standard format.
The work of local members will be recognised as an important contributor to the Authority's community leadership role. In particular:
- advice will be available to local members in promoting local issues through the media - with training made available
- whilst it is legitimate for the Authority to publicise local issues, the Authority will not involve itself in any publicity which 'personalises' such issues and thereby appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party
The continuing role of Authority will also be recognised in the Authority's communication with the media. In particular:
- media statements on policy and other matters which are the remit of Authority (other than the simple reporting of decisions taken) will be made by the Lead members
- media enquiries on such matters will be referred to the Lead members
- Lead members will be given relevant and appropriate support, advice and training to enable them to deal effectively with the media.
The Chairman of the Authority will be supported in making best use of the media to promote his or her special role as ambassador for the Authority.
The work of regulatory bodies and committees (planning, licensing etc) is acknowledged as an important element, and key decisions and issues for decision will be publicised in consultation with relevant spokespersons and lead officers.
The general policy of the Authority will continue to be one of openness and accessibility towards the media. Although officers will not be allowed to comment to the media on Authority decisions they may continue to speak to the media within clearly defined parameters on operational and other matters. These parameters are:
- where they have been specifically delegated to speak to the media by the Chairman, Management Group, relevant Lead member or Chair of the Review panel
- on matters of clarification with reference to officer reports submitted for consideration to Management Group, Review Panel, full Authority or to regulatory committees
- to explain the operational detail of decisions and policies they are implementing
- on issues pertaining to the exercise of professional judgement.
Normally, only First or Second Tier Officers should speak to the media. On non-contentious matters where it would be more appropriate for this to be done by someone with specialist or technical knowledge, Directors/Team Leaders may delegate and these individuals will have access to media training.
Authority Media liaison will normally be carried out via the Authority's Communications team or other designated communications staff with specific media liaison responsibilities.
All the Authority's media contact will be professionally managed to meet the communication needs of the Authority and of the media.
To improve the quality of the Authority's media output and response, all necessary support/advice/training will be offered. Media liaison will only be carried out by staff who have received training approved by the Communications Team Leader.
All news releases will be issued through the Communications Team in standard format, or through designated departmental outlets with specialist media liaison responsibilities.
Incoming press calls will be fielded initially by the Communications Team or other designated communications staff who will respond on behalf of the Authority where appropriate.
Designated Communications staff are empowered to make statements on behalf of the Authority presenting the Authority's position on high profile and other matters and helping build and protect the Authority's reputation.
Underpinning all aspects of this protocol is the general principal, enshrined in Government legislation that the Authority will not involve itself in any publicity which appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party.
In addition to this general principal is a detailed Code of Recommended Practice on local authority publicity, issued by the Secretary of State, which highlights the factors to be borne in mind when taking decisions on publicity.
Copies of this Code of Practice will be made available to Members and Officers, and will inform any discussion and decision. Paragraphs 38, 39 and 40 are particularly relevant, and are reproduced below:
Publicity about individual members may include the contact details, the position they hold in the Authority (for example, member of the Management Group or Chair of the Review Panel), and their responsibilities. Publicity may also include information about individual member's proposals, decisions and members recommendations only where this is relevant to their position and responsibilities within the Authority. All such publicity should be objective and explanatory, and whilst it may acknowledge the part played by individual members as holders of particular positions in the Authority, personalisation of issues or personal image making should be avoided.
Publicity should not be, or liable to misrepresentation as being, party political. Whilst it may be appropriate to describe policies put forward by an individual member which are relevant to her/his position and responsibilities within the Authority, and to put forward her/his justification in defence of them, this should not be done in party political terms, using political slogans, expressly advocating policies of a particular political party or directly attacking policies and opinions of other parties, groups or individuals.
The period between the notice of an election and the election itself should preclude proactive publicity in all its forms of candidates and other politicians involved directly in the election. Publicity should not deal with controversial issues or report views, proposals or recommendations in such a way that identifies them with individual members or groups of members. However, it is acceptable for the Authority to respond in appropriate circumstances to events and legitimate service enquiries provided that their answers are factual and not party political. Members holding key political positions should be able to comment in an emergency or where there is a genuine need for a member level response to an important event outside the Authority's control. Proactive events arranged in this period should not involve members likely to be standing for election.