Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The gag provisions

In today's Newcastle Herald...

Newcastle councillors slam 'gag' policy as censorship attempt


CIVIC leaders have slammed a new policy governing their conduct, saying it amounts to censorship because of a "gag provision" restraining comments made to the media.

Councillor Michael Osborne fears that Newcastle City Council's proposed revisions to its code of conduct will inhibit elected representatives' communication with the community.

"It's a gag provision," he said.

"It's trying to fetter the role of councillors."

Most councillors voted last night to put the draft code on public exhibition for 28 days.

Cr Osborne and colleagues Aaron Buman and Mike King did not support the decision.

Many councillors, including those who voted to seek public comment, had concerns about some provisions, especially a section on talking to the media.

The rules state that councillors are free to make personal statements to the media, but warns this must not include criticism of council officials, and suggests any criticism of the council's decisions would damage its credibility and unity.

The proposed code also dictates that councillors must give the administration's media officer a copy of statements given to the media.

"I think it's gagging us," Cr Buman said.

"And if I reflect back to the last council and its performance I spoke out a lot of the time about a lot of the decisions I was in the minority about.

"I wanted the general public to know how I felt."

Cr Nuatali Nelmes also expressed concern.

"I think it does need to be changed because I don't necessarily think the intention is censorship," she said.

"But I think when it's in black and white like that, that could be the end result."

Lord Mayor John Tate said he was comfortable with the rules.

"It doesn't fetter councillors' rights," he said.

Consultant Kath Roach told last night's council meeting that some provisions were based on the Department of Local Government's model code, but others were not.

A council spokeswoman said general manager Lindy Hyam declined to comment.

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