PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham and chair of CIPR North West Erin Portsmouth have described moves by Liverpool City Council to prevent press officers from speaking to its two biggest newspapers as ‘utterly absurd’ and ‘of real concern’, respectively.
Liverpool City Council has banned all staff, including press officers, from speaking with the Liverpool Echo and the Liverpool Daily Post following the newspapers publishing leaked legal advice to the council from Cherie Blair relating to the appointment of David McElhinney as acting chief executive in July 2010.
The directive reportedly came from chief executive Ged Fitzgerald and Labour council leader Joe Anderson, who has allegedly banned his Labour councillors from speaking to the newspapers as well.
The council is complaining that the articles in the newspapers say the council went against advice provided by the QC to put McElhinney on gardening leave, but later advice received – without this recommendation - was fully complied with. The council stated stories designed to “bring down the reputation of the city and the council are not accepted and need to be challenged”.
The editors of the Echo and Daily Post have said: “Had he told us about it in his initial statement it would have been in our story.
“Indeed, we still await and would welcome evidence that this second document exists, given that nobody from the council has been in a position to confirm it to us.”
Francis Ingham, PRCA chief executive, told The Drum: “Banning press officers from speaking with the press is an act of pique which the Council leadership will regret and inevitably reverse. Having press officers who can't speak with the press is like having teachers who are banned from teaching -utterly absurd
“Having been a Councillor myself, I can easily imagine the member discussion which resulted in this nonsense. They'll think they're 'punishing' the media, and that the press need them more than they need the press. That's clearly a terrible mistake
“Were I running the Comms team, I’d implement the directive to the letter -and wait for the inevitable whinge about why the council isn't getting its message across. They won't have to wait long.”
Erin Portsmouth, chair of CIPR North West, said: “If this report is true, then it is of real concern.
“The CIPR supports the right of journalists to run stories about public appointments and how public money is being spent, as long as this is being done in a fair, balanced and professional way.
“It’s a very difficult issue for the press officers dealing with this situation on the frontline, as this is damaging to the relationships they may have built up with the journalists working for those newspapers.
“Ideally they need to try and fight for the authority to continue providing a professional media service. It’s important that they and their official spokespeople maintain dialogue with the media at all times to ensure that the story is conveyed accurately.
“Otherwise an already difficult situation could be made even worse.”