Sunday, 1 February 2009

Gagging


A guest posting from Simon Shaw looks at an issue that has been well covered in the press


SEFTON COUNCIL “GAGGING” PROTOCOL CONDEMNED AS DRACONIAN

A recent proposal by Sefton Council to prevent councillors speaking to the press on many of the issues discussed by the Council has been widely deplored with Birkdale Lib Dem Councillor Simon Shaw leading the condemnation.

A draft “Media Protocol” for Elected Members and Officers has recently been prepared. It was intended to seek final approval for the new Protocol at the Council Meeting on 26th February.

Simon Shaw has condemned the proposal as “draconian”, pointing out that the protocol seeks to severely limit councillors’ ability to talk to the press for no obviously good reason.

“I am totally appalled at what is being proposed,” is Simon’s reaction.

“To give an example of the draconian proposals being put forward, most councillors are a member of one of 4 Overview and Scrutiny Committees. The draft protocol says that only the relevant chair may give ‘media statements and interviews on Overview and Scrutiny matters’.”

“What this means is that on such matters only four councillors may speak to the press and the other 29 members of these Committees are to be barred from expressing their views to the local media.”

In speaking out, Simon has gained support from a number of quarters, including in the editorial in last Wednesday’s Liverpool Daily Post.


The Daily Post editorial voices its support for Simon’s stance as follows: “It has already been described by one councillor as “draconian”; it seems his fears are very real.”

Reported in the Visiter were the views of senior Conservative Councillor Sir Ron Watson: “I have never heard anything like it in my 40 years as a councillor.”

Simon acknowledges that part of the proposed Media Protocol is needed. Clear guidelines are now set out confirming that councillors may not disclose to the press the contents of confidential reports.

The need for guidance in this area was prompted by a recent case where an official complaint was made against Ainsdale Conservative Councillor Brenda Porter. This concerned certain financial information from a confidential report about Southport Market which appeared in the press and also on a Conservative Party web-site.

“I think it is right that clear rules are set out where we are talking about confidential information. However the rest of these proposals are completely unacceptable in a free and democratic society,” added Simon.