Thursday, January 29, 2009

Democracy In Action

As a local wag remarked recently, local democracy doesn't always go with local government. Take Sefton Council where officers have drawn up a new protocol for media interviews on council matters ( ):
"The protocol was drafted for councillors and officers, and a report proposing its adoption is likely to be discussed at a meeting on February 26.
"A large part of it deals with commenting on confidential reports, stating these reports, which are printed on green paper, contain exempt information which must not be disclosed.
"But another section -- the one which has angered Lib Dem councillors -- sets out rules for commenting on non-confidential information.
"It states: 'Media statements on cabinet decisions will only be made by the appropriate cabinet member, their deputy, the leader or deputy leaders of the council or issued on behalf of the entire cabinet.'
"It adds: 'Interviews on cabinet decisions will only be given by the appropriate cabinet member, their deputy or the council leader'. "
Not surprisingly, the Lib Dems are up in arms; the protocol seems to value freedom of expression so much that it would preserve it in an enclosed space, away from the prying eyes & fevered attention of your average elected representative. It's an approach shared by like-minded champions of free speech such as Mugabe, Putin, et al.
There is, however, a bit of hyperbole in the Lib Dems' response (invoking the First Amendment of the US Constitution may not be entirely germane to Sefton's affairs).
Council officers are either rowing back frantically when quizzed by the Echo's scribe, or flatly contradicting themselves; a spokesman for the council tells the paper that "individual councillors would still be able to express their views to the media if they wish -- as long as it was clear it was not the official council line."
Yes, difficult to distinguish that one, wouldn't you say? A local councillor representing his or her ward dashes off a press release regarding a cabinet decision to, say, the Crosby Herald could be construed to be speaking for the entire council.
Anyone wishing to become an officer at Sefton Council should be aware that they need to undergo a lobotomy prior to beginning their work.

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