Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge Town Council has this week defended its media policy after concerns were raised by a local newspaper.
At a meeting on Monday (June 18th), Burnham and Highbridge Town Council’s Policy and Finance Committee voted unanimously to adopt the updated media policy that sees the Town Clerk, Tatiana Cant, continue in the role of press officer, handling media queries.
A public letter to the council from the editor of the Weekly News stated the media policy should not be used to ‘gag’ councillors or prevent them from speaking to local media or the public.
“Any such ‘rule’ could inhibit the ability of councillors to communicate with those who they are elected to represent which would not be in the interests of a transparent, democratic council. Such a result could stifle or delay information reaching the people of Burnham and Highbridge,” claims the paper.
But Town Clerk Tatiana Cant defended the policy, saying: “It is common pratice in many larger organisations to appoint a press officer and for press comments to be directed to this individual.”
“The Town Council is a corporate body and – after discussion – arrives at a corporate decision.”
“There is no suggestion of the Town Council attempting to reduce levels of transparency. Press are at a liberty to attend any public meeting, with the exception of confidential sessions, and may record anything which is spoken in the room.”
“The Town Council is striving to ensure that accurate information is reported between meetings. Comprehensive statements are made to ensure the press and public are informed as quickly as possible of important local issues.”
“Not all members are fully informed on all issues, particularly if they do not sit on the relevant commitee. It is unhelpful for the press to then approach members when a story is announced, and catch them off-guard.”
“Members should not be in a position where they feel obliged to make responses to the press and may feel more comfortable referring requests for comments to the Town Clerk.”
Councillor David Hoggarth said during Monday’s meeting: “There is no way I know lots of things in detail, there are a lot of initiatives and policies and I am sure councillors will agree it is difficult. It is very easy to make a comment on something and for it later be misinterpreted. I agree with with the response that the Town Clerk is making.”
Councillor Andy Brewer added: “I have been contacted a number of times by the press and if I am unsure of something I will just ask to call them back later. I contact the officer for advice, the view I give is based on what was said at our meeting, that was something that was discussed openly and democratically.”
“Sometimes we can be caught off guard, I will ask to call the person back and then I will phone the officer so I know what we can say. I think the Town Council can be caught off guard and we should have a policy.”
Councillors on the council’s Policy and Finance Committee unanimously voted in favour of re-approving the media policy, which has been in place since last year.
Pictured: The Town Council in action at a meeting earlier this year