Adopted by Full Town Council 15th June 2015
If communication is managed effectively, the Council will be able to create and seize opportunities to communicate with stakeholders and the public and build an accurate and positive reputation.
This protocol acts as a simple reference tool for any Councillors or member of staff who engages with the media. It can clarify roles and responsibilities and help manage expectations.
The purpose of this protocol is to clarify the roles and responsibilities of Councillors and staff in dealing with the media, and to provide guidance on how to handle media interest.
The Council recognises the need for openness and this should be reflected in how the media communications are dealt with.
The aim of the protocol is to ensure that the Council is seen to communicate in a professional and objective manner. In all cases, the Council’s approach to the media should be: open and honest; proactive; responsive and timely
The Legal Context
This protocol reflects the guidance contained in the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity 2001 (as amended) and the Council must have regard to it and follow its provisions. The protocol should be read in conjunction with the Councillors Code of Conduct, the Staff Handbook and the Protocol for Councillor/Staff relations. All publicity will be produced in line with the Council’s equality and diversity guidelines.
This protocol will also explain how CTC will help achieve the following objectives:
- Share and celebrate success
- Give information about policies, services and events, and about the democratic process so that people feel more informed about the Council’s work
- Handle negative issues clearly and decisively
Local paid for and free newspapers, regional newspapers, local BBC and independent radio and TV as well as national and occasionally international media have all covered Chard stories in recent years.
In addition, the internet and social media are vital media to disseminate local news.
Identifying Newsworthy Items
It is the responsibility of everyone working within the Council to identify worthy news items as early as possible.
Handling Media Enquiries
The Town Clerk will be responsible for all media enquiries and responses into the town office.
However, staff are encouraged to take responsibility and deal with requests themselves if they feel comfortable.
Councillors who are directly approached by the media should respond in accordance with the guidance contained in this protocol.
The Council should not pass comment on leaks, anonymous allegations or allegations about individual Councillors and staff. The Council is open and accountable and should always explain if there is a reason why it cannot answer a specific enquiry.
News releases are one of the techniques for publicising Council activities, decisions and achievements.
There are two types of news releases – Official Council News Releases and Councillor News Releases.
Official Council Press Releases – An Official Council release is made on behalf of the Council as a whole; it will be written by a member of staff and issued by the Town Clerk. It is non-party political and will normally include a quote from the relevant Councillor(s). This is usually the Chair of the Council or relevant committee.
Official Council press releases will follow a corporate style appropriate for the media being targeted and a web based record will be maintained. All releases will accurately reflect the corporate view of the Council.
News Releases will not promote the views of specific political groups, publicise the activities of individual Councillors, or persuade the general public to hold a particular view.
It should be borne in mind that a news release is not always the best way to publicise an activity or event and alternative ways of communicating it should be considered e.g. posters, mailings, websites, social media etc.
Councillor News Releases – Councillor news releases are personal and are written and issued by the Councillor responsible. They may or may not be political and should not include the name of any staff member, use the Council crest or the Council telephone number as a point of contact. It would be beneficial for copies of intended releases, to be sent to the Town Clerk.
Councillors seeking advice should contact the Town Clerk
Staff should never give their opinion on specific Council policy but must keep to the corporate line and key messages. Their role is to provide expertise and factual knowledge only, in support of the Council’s approved and agreed policies.
Media Activity Ahead of Meetings
The media pick up many stories from agendas and reports ahead of meetings. All agendas are sent to the local media and published on the Chard Town Council website.
The media is welcome to attend meetings. During meetings Councillors and staff should be mindful that any comments and messages are put across in a manner which gives the journalist an accurate picture, rather than relying on the journalist’s interpretation of what can be a complex issue or report.
Publicity in Election Periods
The rules governing publicity change when an election has been announced. In the period between the notice of an election and the election itself (Purdah) all proactive publicity about candidates or other politicians is halted. This applies to local, national or European elections. Conversely, Council business and the publicity associated with, can and should continue.
During this period, Council publicity should not deal with controversial issues or report views, proposals or recommendations in a way that identifies them with individual Councillors or groups of Councillors. This is to make sure that no individual Councillors or political party gains an unfair advantage by appearing in corporate publicity.
In these circumstances, where a quote is required, the relevant member of staff may be quoted, in accordance with the guidelines in this protocol.
Non-Council Related Media Activity
Councillors and staff who have contact with the media in a personal capacity or as members of non-Council related organisations must not refer to their Council posts and must make it clear to the journalist concerned that they are speaking in a personal capacity or on behalf of the non-Council related organisation.
Managing Negative Issues
From time to time the Council has to respond to negative issues. It is important that these situations are managed carefully so as to limit the potential for negative publicity.
Councillors and staff must alert the Town Clerk as soon as a potentially negative issue which may attract media interest comes to light. They should not wait until contact is made by the media.
Councillors and staff will work together to prepare holding statements, other information and carry out research even if no media have contacted the Council about an issue.
Correcting Inaccurate Reporting
Should the media publish something inaccurate about the Council, a quick decision needs to be taken by the Town Clerk on any action necessary to correct it.
This could be a letter, email, a post on social media or news release, or in exceptional circumstances to take legal advice. It should be noted that in the case of minor inaccuracies which have little or no impact on the message being conveyed, it can sometimes be counterproductive to complain. Each case must be judged individually.
Occasionally the Council will get something wrong. In these cases, damage limitation is the key – this can usually be achieved by accepting responsibility, apologising, and stating how we are going to learn from the error or put it right.
Monitoring and Evaluation
The Council will continually monitor the media coverage and collate it.
Freedom of Information and Data Protection
Councillors are reminded that they must not misuse Council resources for political or other inappropriate purposes. Should the Council receive a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 on a topic on which there is correspondence (email or written), normally that correspondence would have to be disclosed, unless it was exempt. The fact that the disclosure of the correspondence may prove embarrassing would not, in itself, prevent disclosure.
In addition, care should be taken when processing personal data. The Data Protection Act 1998 prevents the use of personal information other than for the purposes for which it was supplied. Councillors should bear this in mind when using any personal data which may be supplied to them by their constituents.
Internet Acceptable Use Policy
Internet use covers all websites, social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter etc., forums and blogs and both Councillors and staff are encouraged to use them.
If the above are used in an official capacity or on Council related business, the guidance in this protocol must be adhered to and they must be used in a responsible and appropriate manner.
Under the consideration of Acceptable Use, when acting in the capacity of Chard Town Council, websites and social media should not:
- contain content that may result in actions for libel, defamation or other claims for damages be used to process personal data other than for the purpose stated at the time of capture promote any political party or used for political campaigning
- promote personal financial interests or commercial ventures
- be used for personal campaigns
- be used in an abusive, hateful or disrespectful manner
If social media is used in an unofficial capacity, Councillors and staff should restrain from making remarks that could be construed as bringing the Council into disrepute.
The above points should provide useful guidance to prevent misinterpretation.
It is best practice on any personal profile for an online social media account to state clearly that the views are those of the individual, and may not represent the views of Chard Town Council. It is also advised that the Council’s logo, or any other Council related material is not used on a personal online account, for example, website, blog or social media platform as a profile picture or icon representing that account.
The following dangers could occur with the personal or Council use of social media (please note this is not an exhaustive list):
- Sharing images or personal details could lead to the exploitation of vulnerable people or groups
- Breaching a code of conduct, for example the 7 Principles of Public Life through tactless posting and commenting
- Bullying, instigating or fuelling online persecution or inappropriate debate through thoughtless posting and commenting
- Civil or criminal action taken against account holders relating to breaches of legislation
- Damage to a councillor’s reputation or a Council’s reputation
- The accidental or intentional release of confidential information
- Virus or malware attacks through online sites or downloads compromising systems or networks relating to Council business
In light of these risks, we should all be mindful and practice safe social media use and ensure that:
- A consistent and considered approach is adopted and maintained in the use of social media by councillors and staff
- Be aware that copyright laws do apply online
- Make sure Council information remains confidential where necessary and is not compromised through the use of social media – including blogging and websites (by individual or group use)
- Councillors adhere to the policies set out by various social media sites they are using, and are up-to-date with relevant legislation
- Councillors and staff should be conscious that they are and will be held personally responsible for content they publish (including ‘commenting’) on any form of social media – whether during or out of office hours. It should also be noted that an untrue statement or breach of a particular code of conduct may incur a libel action against an individual
- Councillors and staff should remember that social media sites are in the public domain and information published can be readily distributed by others. Even if a post is deleted or taken down it has a life span that someone could have seen and distributed
Councillors and staff must be aware and mindful that when using social media in a personal capacity it is expected they behave appropriately and in line with the Council’s values and policies in the constitution. Any inappropriate online activity may result in disciplinary action.
Any Councillor receiving unwelcomed comments, threats, or harassment online should report it to the police. Any staff member should report it to the police and their line manager. If you feel your account is being attacked by someone acting as a ‘Troll’ it is best practice to ignore this person or persons and report the issue to the social media site on which the problem is occurring. There are also a number of options in relation to ‘blocking’ a person if the behaviour is particularly upsetting or abusive.
Young People and Publicity
Guidelines should be followed if commissioning photographs of children (i.e. under 18 years of age) or if planning photography of children at events and using visual media for publicity purposes.