Mirfield mayor brands plans to stop councillors speaking to media as “ludicrous”

Councillor Vivien Lees-Hamilton the new Mayor of Mirfield.  (d601a321)
Councillor Vivien Lees-Hamilton the new Mayor of Mirfield. (d601a321)

The Mayor of Mirfield has branded plans to block councillors from speaking to the media as “ludicrous”.

New guidance from the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) says councillors should only speak to journalists if they have written permission from the council.

The rules, which have been sent out to 8,500 NALC members, would affect Mirfield Town Council.

It would effectively ban town councillors from talking to Reporter journalists about Mirfield matters, unless the whole council agreed to it.

Coun Vivien Lees-Hamilton said the council would ignore the guidelines.

“I think it is absolutely ludicrous,” she said. “This is England, for goodness sake, we have freedom of speech and democracy.

“The reason we became town councillors was because we have a strong sense of feeling about issues in our town, and naturally we would want to put our point across in the press – but this is just not right.

“I think the people who have made these guidelines up need to find something better to do with their time.”

The guidelines would effectively stop reporters from going to councillors directly for news and comments – they’d have to go through the town clerk, an unelected administrator.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles rubbished the idea.

“I am concerned that this Stalinist guidance will have a chilling effect on public life,” he said.

“Its contents are utterly opposed by the Government and it should be withdrawn immediately.

“We should be championing the independent free press, not trying to suppress it.”

The NALC guidelines stated:

All journalists must contact the Council Clerk and may not contact councillors directly.

Any contact by councillors with journalists requires the Council’s prior written consent.

Councillors cannot in their official capacity provide verbal or written statements to the media without the written consent of the Council.

Councillors are not permitted to use the title “councillor” if giving comments in a private capacity.

NALC chairman Coun Ken Browse defended them, saying: “We want our 9,000 parish councils to have more dealings with the media.

“Councils are doing a brilliant job improving their area and we want the media to report that.

“It does not bar councillors from speaking to the media but explains the legal framework that governs them.”