NATIONAL guidance suggesting town and parish councillors should not talk directly to journalists has been criticised by members of Bolton’s three town councils.
The National Association of Local Councils has set out a media policy suggesting town and parish councillors should not speak to or send any written statements to journalists without prior permission.
The guidance, which has been issued to 8,500 councils, also recommends that all journalists must contact the council clerk and should not get in touch with councillors directly.
Councillors would also not be permitted to use the title ‘councillor’ if giving comments in a private capacity.
While the guidance is optional, parish councils are being asked to adopt it into their constitution and standard rules — meaning councillors could theoretically be disciplined for not adhering to it.
The policy has been described as “Stalinist” and “completely inappropriate” by the man in charge of local governments, communities secretary Eric Pickles.
Members of Bolton’s three town councils agree if incorporated into their constitutions, the rules could cause problems.
Leader of Westhoughton Town Council, Cllr David Chadwick said: “Speaking personally, it is not something I would support — I just think councillors need to communicate properly with local reporters, as I do with The Bolton News.
“It’s essential to communicate, even if sometimes the questions they ask are awkward.”
Horwich council leader, Cllr Kevin McKeon said that although it “goes against the grain”, he agreed with Eric Pickles on the matter.
He added: “I wouldn’t want my communications to go to be vetted by members of another party on the council, it would be terribly cumbersome, with lots of delays.
“If I wanted to say something to a reporter that other members didn’t agree with, would I then be censored?.
Deputy Mayor of Blackrod Town Council, Cllr Stephen Laycock believes the policy would “go against localism”.
He added: “It seems like it would stifle democracy and freedom of speech — if it is someone speaking on behalf of the council then yes that should be agreed, but if a journalist calls me for an individual opinion I should be able to express it.”
Cllr Ken Browse, chairman of the NALC, defended the guidance, stating it actually wanted parish councils to “have more dealings with the media”.
He added: “Councils are doing a brilliant job improving their area and we want the media to report that.
“Our 200 page book, Local Councils Explained, published last year helps councils navigate their way through endless red tape, bureaucracy and arcane laws created by successive governments.
"It does not bar councillors from speaking to the media but explains the legal framework that governs them.”