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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 02/12/2003
Media Protocol for Members



WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL’S MEDIA PROTOCOL FOR MEMBERS



DRAFT DOCUMENT

















Written and prepared by
Julie Jackson, Borough Communications Manager

CONTENTS
SUMMARY OF KEY PROTOCOL MESSAGES
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1. WAVERLEY MEDIA PROTOCOL FOR ALL MEMBERS
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1.1 Purpose of media protocol for Members
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1.2 Why good media relations are important
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1.3 Power of the media
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1.4 Setting the scene
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1.5 Media functions performed by the communications team
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1.6 Waverley’s media
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2. RESTRICTIONS
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2.1 Publicity and the law
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2.2 The law in the run up to elections
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3. PLANNING AHEAD
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3.1 A proactive media service
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4. PRESS RELEASES
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4.1 Requesting a press release
6
4.2 Servicing Committees
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4.3 The Executive
6
4.4 Overview and Scrutiny Committees
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4.5 Partnership press releases
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4.6 Who to quote in press releases
6
4.7 Distribution of releases
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5. MEDIA ENQUIRIES
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5.1 Number of enquiries
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5.2 Who is authorised to speak to the media
7
5.3 Political or non-political
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5.4 Timely response
8
6. BROADCAST INTERVIEWS
8
6.1 Interview procedure
8
6.2 Interview preparation
8
6.3 Confidential information
8
7. PHOTO’ OPPORTUNITIES
8
7.1 Quality of photographs
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7.2 Arranging photography
9
8. BAD NEWS
9
9. NEGATIVE COVERAGE
9
9.1 To respond or not to respond
9
10. TRAINING
9
11. KEEPING MEMBERS INFORMED
9
12. FURTHER INFORMATION
10
Bibliography
11
Appendix A
12
Appendix B
15
Appendix C
17


SUMMARY OF KEY PROTOCOL MESSAGES

This protocol aims to ensure that Waverley’s media service is proactive as well as reactive. This is a requirement of the Communications Best Value improvement action plan

Best Value consultation showed that 77 per cent of citizens’ panel respondents and 63 per cent of stakeholders rely on the local press for information about Waverley

Research by Mori has found that residents often cite the local media as a key influence on their perception of their council (more often negative)

The regular publication or broadcast of positive news stories about Waverley Borough Council will provide the electorate with vital feedback about Waverley’s activities

Responsibility for media relations concerning Waverley Borough Council business sits with the communications unit

Waverley Borough Council is not allowed to publish material which could be deemed to affect support for a political party

The communications unit works for the Council as a whole and not, for example, the Executive or the ruling administration only

It is Waverley’s policy to quote the relevant portfolio holder in all press releases

Waverley’s communications unit deals with approximately 450 media enquiries per year. It is not known how many calls are made direct to Members

When seeking a response on Waverley Borough Council business, to ensure a consistent response, the communications unit must be the first point of contact for any journalist

Publicity that has been produced with the use of Waverley Borough Council resources should not be designed to influence opinion of a particular political party

Apart from in exceptional circumstances, non-political interviews will not be given on agenda items before a committee meeting

Where both a Member and Officer are equally qualified to conduct the interview, the Member will normally be approached in the first instance

Confidential information should never be released to the media. Regard should be paid at all times to the Code of Conduct for Members

Before an interview, a member of the communications unit will brief the interviewee to ensure the replies address the messages that Waverley Borough Council wishes to communicate

The communications unit needs to be briefed on any potential bad news stories as soon as possible

All communications with the media concerning Waverley Borough Council business, including ‘letters to the editor’, must be issued from the communications unit



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WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL’S MEDIA PROTOCOL FOR ALL MEMBERS
Media protocol for Members
This media protocol has been put together following the Best Value Review of Communications. The review resulted in an improvement action plan that was endorsed by Full Council on 23 April 2002. A key target of this improvement action plan is to ensure the provision of a media service that is proactive as well as reactive.
    Why are good media relations important?
    During the Best Value review of communications, consultation took place with the citizens’ panel and stakeholders. The research showed that 77 per cent of citizens’ panel respondents and 63 per cent of stakeholders rely on the local press for information about Waverley. The research showed that the importance of local newspapers to an individual increases with age.
      Fifty-four per cent of citizens’ panel respondents and 31 per cent of stakeholders claimed that local newspapers were a very important source of information about Waverley. This appears to correspond with the national trend identified by Mori.

      Research by Mori has also found that residents often cite the local media as a key influence on their perception of their council (more often negative). Mori research has also found a direct link between the relationship journalists have with the organisation’s communications unit and the impact this can have on the slant of their articles. Generally, the better the relationship, the more positive the slant.
        With the local media having this much influence over residents’ perceptions of their local council, it is vital that Waverley Borough Council makes the most of this opportunity by ensuring that regular releases are issued to communicate good news and the council’s achievements. This constant dialogue of good new stories helps to engender a ‘feel good’ factor by the electorate for the ruling administration.
          Power of the media
          It is important not to under estimate the power of the local press. The national newspapers often pick up stories from local newspapers and will use the quotes as part of their story. What is said in a local newspaper can take on a whole new dimension when it appears in a national.
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          Setting the scene
          Responsibility for media relations concerning Waverley Borough Council business sits with the communications unit. The unit is currently made up of the Borough Communications Manager and two part-time Communications Officers. Ultimate responsibility for corporate communications lies with the Assistant Chief Executive.

          Media functions performed by the communications unit
          In its media capacity role the unit is responsible for:
          Handling all media enquiries
          Issuing press releases
          Making follow up calls to promote a story
          Arranging media briefings
          Setting up live and recorded radio and television interviews
          Establishing positive and professional relationships with the media
          Producing the weekly press cuttings bulletin
          Media training
          Media monitoring
          Taking photographs an offering advice on photo’ opportunities
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          Waverley’s media
          The geographical area of Waverley is well served by a wide range of media. The titles, contact information and publication deadlines can be found in Appendix A.

          RESTRICTIONS
          Publicity and the law
          The restrictions on political publicity are contained in Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986, as amended by Section 27 of the Local Government Act 1988.
            Under the regulations, local authorities are not allowed to publish any material which could be deemed to influence support for a political party. Where publicity, particularly press releases, are used to comment on or respond to the policies or proposals of central government or other public authorities, the comment or response should be objective, balanced, informative and accurate.
              The law in the run up to elections
              Publicity during the run-up to an election is a particularly sensitive issue. All publicity referring to a political party, existing Member or anyone standing for election must be suspended between the publication of a notice of election and polling day.

              During this period, no Member will be quoted in press releases. However, a Member holding a key political or civic position, may, if appropriate, provide a comment on an emergency or an important event outside of Waverley’s control where there is a need for a Member response. The Chief Executive will advise in these special circumstances.


              PLANNING AHEAD
              A proactive media service
              To achieve the aim of providing a media service that is proactive, a forward planning process has been introduced which requires all departments to prepare a monthly schedule outlining key events and issues that may require media/public relations support. It is envisaged that directors will consult with their relevant portfolio holder when putting together this information.
                With the communications unit being made up of just two full-time equivalent staff, forward planning is key for ensuring that departments and Members are provided with a quality service. To enable this service objective to be met, and to allow Waverley’s communications to be as proactive as possible, each department should have a ‘nominated representative’ who can ensure early notification to the communications unit about contentious or newsworthy issues due to appear in committee papers. This approach will result, not only in improved media relations, but fair coverage of issues.


                PRESS RELEASES
                Requesting a press release
                To ensure as much good press coverage as possible for Waverley Borough Council’s services, it is Waverley’s aim that its corporate communications are proactive. To achieve this, the communications unit needs to work effectively with services and Members in order to ensure that communications are timely. Apart from urgent and unforeseen press releases that will normally receive a reactive response, at least four working days notice needs to be given to the communications unit. If notice is not given, the timely issue of the release cannot be guaranteed.
                  To ensure a prompt and accurate release, the person requiring the press release will be asked to fill in or to provide the information requested on the ‘press release request form’ – see example at Appendix B. This will help to ensure that the communications unit is provided with all of the necessary information needed to write the press release which will in turn avoid delays in its issue. If a request is considered to be not particularly newsworthy, the communications unit will discuss its appropriateness with the person requesting the press release.
                    Priority will be given to press releases that are considered to be the most newsworthy and that promote Waverley’s corporate aims and objectives.

                    Editorial control for all Waverley Borough Council press releases rests with the Borough Communications Manager and the Assistant Chief Executive. All press releases will be approved and released by the communications unit.

                    Servicing committees
                    One of the main aims of the ‘modernising agenda’ is to make local government more accountable. The communications unit works for the Council as a whole.
                      The Executive
                      Immediately following the Executive briefing, the deputy leader will advise the communications unit of press releases that are required by the Executive.

                      Overview and Scrutiny Committees
                      Chairs of the Overview and Scrutiny Committees can request that a press release is written providing that it promotes the work of the committee and not a personal or political agenda.

                      The emphasis of the release will aim to reflect factually the view of the Overview and Scrutiny committee. The chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be given the opportunity to include a factual quote. Likewise, the relevant portfolio holder will also be given the opportunity to provide a factual quote in response.

                      Partnership press releases
                      On occasions where the communications team is required to write press releases about work carried out in partnership with other organisations, the request will be treated with the same guidelines that apply to Waverley Borough Council press releases – see Requesting a press release (4.1).
                        Who to quote in press releases
                        Waverley’s legal authority to issue publicity is governed by the Local Government Act 1986, as amended by the Local Government Act 1988, and guided by the Local Government Information Unit’s publicity code of conduct. It is made clear that the views of leading Members, who represent Waverley, can be publicised as long as the views are relevant to their position and responsibilities within the council. Officers are restricted to the giving of professional and factual information.
                          It is Waverley’s policy to quote the relevant portfolio holder in all press releases. The press release will not be issued until the quote has been approved by the individual quoted. If time is critical to the issue of the release and the quoted Member is unavailable to approve their quote, a senior and appropriate Officer will be quoted instead.
                            Distribution of releases
                            If a press release is specific to an area eg Farnham, the release will be issued only to the media that cover the area. Press releases that are more general will be issued to all media.
                              All press releases are forwarded to all Members with e-mail and can be viewed on Waverley’s website.

                              MEDIA ENQUIRIES
                              Number of enquiries
                              The communications unit receives approximately 450 media enquiries per year. Calls range from requests for background information on planning applications to requests for information on cases where a complainant has gone direct to the press. It is not known how many media calls are made direct to Members.
                                The communications unit is restricted to providing factual information. When a comment or opinion is required on policy, the relevant portfolio holder will be contacted and where appropriate, a response will be prepared for their approval.
                                  Who is authorised to speak to the media?
                                  When a journalist contacts Waverley Borough Council direct, the communications unit must be the first point of contact for any journalist. This is to ensure a consistent response to issues concerning Waverley business. In the event that a journalist seeks to speak to a member of staff direct they must be referred to the communications office. Where appropriate, media trained Officers can speak to the media. Any Officer contact with the media should be recorded on a press log, which is available via Lotus Notes. A list of media trained Officers, is contained in Appendix C.
                                    When media enquiries are about day-to-day issues, the response will be attributed to a ‘Waverley Borough Council spokesperson’. If the issue is controversial or is particularly topical, the Leader of the Council will be notified and the response will be attributed to him/her.
                                      In the event that a journalist does contact a Member direct, Members are advised not to respond immediately but to allow time to ‘collect their thoughts’. In such a case, the Member should take the journalist’s contact details, the nature of the request and the deadline. Only in exceptional circumstances is it reasonable for a journalist to request a response within a very short timescale. It is important that Members recognise that journalists will often apply pressure in an attempt to get an ‘off the cuff’ response. Such comments are rarely in the interests of the Council or the individual Member.

                                      Political or non-political
                                      Publicity that has been produced with the use of Waverley Borough Council resources must not be designed to influence support for a political party. Therefore, it would not be appropriate, for example, for a Member to issue the media with a political statement/response on official Council Member headed notepaper.
                                        Members can provide the media with a political slant by contacting them independently. Before doing this, Members should establish with their political leader what their party political protocol is regarding contacting the media.
                                          Timely response
                                          It is a performance indicator target for officers to respond to media enquiries within the deadline given or 12 working hours, whichever is the soonest.
                                            NOTE
                                            Although it may not be considered a priority, ignoring a media enquiry will not make it go away. Whilst ‘off the cuff’ comments are not advised, intentional delay tactics beyond this will make the journalist suspicious and will damage media relations.

                                            BROADCAST INTERVIEWS
                                            Interview procedure
                                            Where both a Member and a media trained Officer are equally qualified to conduct the interview, the Member will normally be approached in the first instance. As time is of the essence with broadcast media, if the Member is unavailable or not contactable, rather than miss the valuable opportunity of an interview, an appropriate Officer will be asked to respond.
                                              Apart from in exceptional circumstances, interviews will not be given on agenda items before a committee meeting.
                                                Interview preparation
                                                When an interview bid is made, the communications unit will, where possible, find out the questions the interviewer is likely to ask and the angle from which they are planning to approach the interview. Before the interview, a member of the communications unit will discuss the brief with the interviewee to ensure their replies address the messages that Waverley Borough Council wishes to communicate.
                                                  Confidential information
                                                  Confidential information should never be released to the media. Regard should be paid at all times to the Code of Conduct for Members.

                                                  PHOTO’ OPPORTUNITIES
                                                  Quality of photographs
                                                  Now that newspapers print in colour and are more competitive, the standard of photography has increased and has become far more creative. Due to limited resources, it is unlikely that a newspaper photographer will be able to attend many of Waverley’s photocalls.
                                                    Arranging photography
                                                    A high standard of photography is key to achieving as much photographic coverage as possible. If the event is important, it is worth discussing with the director of the service whether there is a budget for a professional photographer. If budgets do not permit this, then the communications unit has a digital camera that is available to Officers or Members wishing to take their own photographs. Where possible a member of the communications unit will make themselves available to take photographs. Save for exceptional circumstances, for example emergencies, at least one week’s notice will need to be given.

                                                    BAD NEWS
                                                    Bad news stories have implications for Waverley. The communications unit needs to be briefed on any potential bad news story as soon as possible. Forewarned is forearmed and a lot can be done to limit the negative impact of a story. It is important not to under-estimate the power of the media – they will always find out!
                                                      NEGATIVE COVERAGE
                                                      To respond or not to respond
                                                      Waverley Borough Council will not always be portrayed in a positive way by the press.
                                                        Sometimes it may be better not to react in order to avoid prolonging the story’s life. Before taking any action, it is important to assess whether the story is factually incorrect. If, after consultation with the director responsible for the service and/or portfolio holder and a member of the communications unit, it is agreed that a response is appropriate, the following possible courses of action will need to be decided upon:
                                                        Request that the newspaper prints a correction. This should be used sparingly as insisting on a correction could just prolong a negative story and may end up being counter-productive
                                                        A succinct letter to the editor will ensure the correction is published exactly as the council would like to see it
                                                        The communications unit speaks to the journalist concerned to ascertain the facts. It is not in the journalist’s interest to write a factually incorrect story so it is important to identify their source of information to ensure future errors are avoided
                                                        A complaint to the Press Complaints Commission or the Broadcasting Standards Commission
                                                          NOTE
                                                          Using the letters page as a forum to exercise ‘right to reply’ should be used only very occasionally. It is not advised that correspondence with complainants takes place through the letters page.
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                                                          TRAINING
                                                          Regular media training is arranged and offered to Members. Members will be notified of training opportunities by e-mail, Outlook or by letter.

                                                          KEEPING MEMBERS INFORMED
                                                          Once issued, all press releases will be forwarded to all Members with e-mail
                                                          The press releases will appear on Waverley’s website as soon as they have been released
                                                          A weekly set of press cuttings will be prepared and issued to all Members. The cuttings are also available via the Lotus Notes welcome page
                                                          The communications unit records all media enquiries. Sight of this database is available upon request
                                                          The communications unit analyses media coverage on a monthly basis. This will be shared with the Leader of the Council and is available upon request
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                                                          FURTHER INFORMATION
                                                          For further information about this communications policy or for non-political advice on any communications issue, a member of the communications unit will always be happy to assist.

                                                          Julie Jackson, Borough Communications Manager – extension 3204
                                                          Daniela Maimone, part-time Communications Officer – extension 3450 on Mon, Tues and Wed
                                                          Vacancy, part-time Communications Officer – extension 3450 on Wed, Thurs and Fri

                                                          BIBLIOGRAPHY

                                                          Websites

                                                          IdeA
                                                          Mori


                                                          Publications

                                                          The Right Side of the Law – A guide from the Local Government Information Unit
                                                          Hampshire County Council’s Corporate Communications Protocol for Cabinet and Leader
                                                          Tameside Media Protocol