Rules that bar councillors from speaking to the press without permission have been blasted as ‘Stalinist’ by local government secretary, Eric Pickles.
Pickles has hit out at guidance issued by the National Association of Local Councils that calls on councils to regulate contact between councillors and journalists. It includes preventing journalists from contacting councillors directly and councillors needing to obtain written consent from the council before speaking to the press.
Pickles said the guidance was ‘completely inappropriate’ and is calling on parish councils to ignore the new media policy.
Pickles said: ‘Freedom of speech is a vital part of local democracy. Councillors must be able to challenge waste and inefficiency, and should not have to get permission from state officials to speak to the press.
‘I am concerned that this Stalinist guidance will have a chilling effect on public life. I am making clear its contents are utterly opposed by the Government and it should be withdrawn immediately.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.’
NALC said it rejected the idea the guidance was 'Stalinist' and said it was intended to explain the legal frameworks that councillors must operate it when speaking to the media.
Cllr Ken Browse, chairman of NALC, said: 'NALC rejects Mr Pickles' accusation of 'Stalinism'.
'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.
'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.'