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Media Relations Protocol

Purpose

  • To provide a protocol to councillors and officers for working with the media.

  • To ensure consistency of standards, accuracy of information and appropriate political and officer input with a view to protecting and enhancing the reputation of BCP Council in all dealings with media organisations.

Context

  • BCP Council values the role the media plays in informing residents, businesses and communities about council decisions and activities. Media organisations also hold a key independent public scrutiny role that is welcomed.

  • The council recognises the importance of these roles and is committed to developing and maintaining a positive working relationship with all professional and accredited media organisations.

  • Working with the media supplements the council’s own communications channels. Unless by agreed exception, priority is placed on using the council’s own audience engagement tools first, so that those who have chosen to engage with us receive news and information direct from the council, rather than a third-party source. This adds value to and builds trust in our own communications activities and facilitates BCP Council’s direct engagement with residents and other stakeholders. 

Principles

  • BCP Council will be open and honest in its dealings with the media and work on the principle that all information that can be released, will be released. This principle supports the council’s established democratic processes for placing information in the public domain in a managed way, ensuring transparency and openness whilst respecting legal restrictions and confidentiality.

  • Effective media relations demonstrates community leadership, reinforces policy-making and service-delivery responsibility and supports visibility around decision-making, all of which councillors are accountable for to the electorate.

  • Responding to media enquiries in a timely manner is a priority for the whole council, as the sooner a response is provided, the greater the likelihood of contributing to the media angle and ensuring the council’s position is reflected. In practice, this requires those receiving requests for assistance from Corporate Communications in responding to media enquiries to treat these requests as a priority.

  • Proactive media relations activity will support the promotion and explanation of council decision-making, policy review and development, news announcements and service delivery activities in a timely and proactive way. This includes issuing media releases for newsworthy items to coincide with the publication of Cabinet and other relevant meeting agendas.

  • Media releases will generally include a single attributed quote, approved by the person quoted, as this demonstrates accountability and ownership. Exceptions will arise when partnership working with third parties, for complex matters with cross-portfolio impacts, or for issues where a policy or decision statement is required alongside a legal or technical officer explanation.

  • It is important that quotes are attributed to an individual as this demonstrates responsibility and counters perceptions that the council is a faceless and unaccountable organisation. Comments and quotes, whether proactive or responsive, are attributed to the relevant Cabinet Member or Committee Chair, as this demonstrates accountability, ensures appropriate profile and builds public confidence. If agreed with the lead Cabinet Member or Committee Chair, it may be appropriate to quote a Member Champion, second Cabinet Member, other councillor in an official capacity, or an officer, providing lines of accountability to the public are not blurred.

  • Where the appropriate responsible Cabinet Member is unavailable within media deadlines, and therefore unable to approve comment that would otherwise be attributable to him/her, the Leader of the Council as Communications Cabinet Member will be contacted as an alternative suitable responsible councillor.

  • In the event of neither the Cabinet Member nor the Leader of the Council being available, an appropriate responsible officer will approve the quote, which will be attributed to a ‘Council spokesperson’. Whilst this is not best practice from a public transparency or accountability perspective, it does serve to reinforce the clearly defined roles of councillors and officers in the decision-making process.

  • Officers are quoted in circumstances where a member of the public would reasonably expect an operational, officer perspective. Corporate Communications staff will advise with recommendations. These situations will be when: 
    • there is a need to respond extremely quickly in changing circumstances to maintain the flow of information to the public (e.g. an emergency road closure or an environmental health investigation);

    • Specific technical information is being explained

    • there is a legal aspect to the comment which would benefit from attribution to a professional officer rather than a politician.

    • The council is in the pre-election period known as purdah.
  • Responsive comments relating to statutory roles of Planning and Licensing will quote the Board Chair as a default, alongside the lead Cabinet Member if appropriate.

  • Responsive comments in relation to specific scrutiny meeting business will quote the relevant Scrutiny Chair.

  • Responsive comment for borough-wide civic and ceremonial leadership matters will be attributed to the Chairman of the Council.

  • Responsive comment for locality civic matters will be attributed to the Mayor for that locality. 

  • All councillors receive all press releases immediately before these are issued to the media, to give any councillor who wishes to do so the opportunity to comment direct to the press in good time for the publication of any resulting article. In some circumstances, to be agreed with the responsible Cabinet Member, it may be appropriate to include comments from ward councillors in proactive media releases; circumstances in which this would be appropriate include where these relate to council activities specific to a single ward, such as opening of a new council facility or Ofsted announcement.

  • BCP Council will provide designated spokespeople (Cabinet Members, Committee Chairs and authorised officers) with appropriate advice and training to confidently represent the council in media interviews, whether offline, pre-recorded or live broadcast.

  • All media relations work will comply with the national Government Code of Publicity for Local Government

Working with the media

  • Corporate Communications manages media relations on behalf of the council, to ensure there is accuracy and consistency when dealing with the media. Corporate Communications will assist and support the whole organisation (Cabinet, Cabinet Members, Committee Chairs and officers), in the provision of accurate, timely, honest and useful information to the media, whilst also advising on contextual issues and reputation management impacts.
  • Information provided to the media by Corporate Communications reports the decisions and outcomes of the council's activities and policies and explain the reasons for them. Comment will not be made on political debates within the council.
  • Corporate Communications supports the organisation and its leadership by providing a gatekeeping service for media call handling and to offer strategic advice, wider council context and guidance to councillors and officers.
  • The team prepares appropriately packaged information, collating relevant briefing materials, assisting in the co-ordination of information flow to ensure responsible Cabinet Members or Committee Chairs are fully aware of issues, drafting messaging on council matters for proactive and responsive media relations.
  • All media enquiries received by officers must be referred to Corporate Communications via press.office@bcpcouncil.gov.uk or on 01202 454668 so appropriate support can be provided. This includes enquiries received by venues and facilities, unless agreed by exception. It is noted that destination PR enquiries are managed via the Tourism PR function.
  • Officers contacted by Corporate Communications must prioritise the provision of information and context, so that the council’s position can best be represented to the media at the earliest opportunity.
  • All councillors are always free to engage directly with the media should they choose. Councillors speaking directly to the media in their official capacity as a Cabinet Member or Committee Chair and therefore on behalf of the council, are encouraged to seek advice and information from Corporate Communications to assist in their discussion, response or briefing. This also means that the coverage can be recorded, monitored, followed up and amplified on the council’s own channels where appropriate.
  • All approaches by the media should be dealt with in a timely and accurate manner. Turnaround requires prioritisation by both Cabinet Members, Committee Chairs and officers, as articles are likely to be published without the council’s position being well-reflected or prominent, if media deadlines are not met.

  • All councillors are likely to be contacted by the media to comment on matters not directly related to council activities, but relevant to their wards, such as community events or traffic incidents. Councillors are of course at liberty to comment freely on these matters. 

Process

When issuing a proactive media release, the distribution process is as follows:

  1. Email to all councillors and Corporate Management Board
  2. Publish to council website
  3. Post to social media channels
  4. Distribute through relevant email marketing newsletter (if significant issue or announcement)
  5. Email to the media
  6. Publish to BCP Council intranet
  7. If not ‘4’ above, distribute through next scheduled email marketing newsletter

Media Photocall events

  • Corporate Communications will advise the benefits of any proposed photocall and help determine whether the resources required to stage such an event are worthwhile.

  • Corporate Communications and service areas will work together to determine the best location and participants in any photo.

  • Standard photocall participant will be the appropriate Cabinet Member or Committee Chair, along with relevant officers, partners, community members and ward councillors as appropriate.

  • Ward councillors will be invited to photocall events about ward-specific matters such as local events or opening ceremonies.

  • A range of photographs will be taken at each photocall featuring a variety of participants.

Commenting in public and online

  • Officers and councillors should always be mindful of comments made when attending public meetings, as these may be recorded by the public or press, attended by the media and legitimately quoted as on the record comment.

  • Likewise, comments made via social media can equally and legitimately be used by the media.

  • Officers and councillors should be mindful that there remains scope for these comments to be used out of context by others.

Confidential briefings

  • Colleagues and councillors should be aware that all conversations with a member of the media are treated as on the record and can be attributed to them.

  • No officer should speak ‘off the record’ with any member of the media, nor should colleagues share information with the media without authority, either openly or anonymously. Any information for release to the media should be done so through Corporate Communications.

  • Councillors are advised not to speak ‘off the record’. Councillors are advised to refer the matter to Corporate Communications for further guidance.

Pre-election periods

  • During the period between the notice of an election and the election itself, local authorities must not publish any publicity on controversial issues or report views or proposals in such a way that identifies them with any individual members or groups of members.  Local authorities can publish factual information which identifies the names, wards and parties of candidates at elections and also give details on the voting process.

  • In general, the council will cease all publicity involving councillors during the pre-election period.