Council revises press relations

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AN amended communications policy that encourages Frankston Council staff “to create, and maintain, positive working relationships with local media outlets” has been backed by a majority of councillors.

The policy, proposed by Cr Kris Bolam, was approved by a 5-3 vote of councillors at council’s 23 May public meeting despite opposition from some councillors and mayor Cr Brian Cunial.

Cr Cunial was adamant during the debate about improving relations with the media that he will choose who he speaks to despite being an official spokesperson for council as mayor.

“I won’t sit down with Neil Walker, definitely,” Cr Cunial said.

The mayor has asked for questions from The Times to be put in writing during his latest mayoral term and refers queries to the council’s media and communications department to respond.

Previous mayors have talked to The Times when called with questions.

Cr Cunial said he may meet with a Leader journalist when questioned by Cr Bolam about his dealings with local media outlets as mayor.

Cr Glenn Aitken said during debate about the amended media policy that he believes an aggressive approach to the press is counter-productive.

“I think if council even subliminally wants to have an adversarial position to the press or a fearful position towards the press or a suspicious position towards the press, that augurs not well for any local council,” Cr Glenn Aitken said.

“I believe that … an honest, open and frank discussion with the press serves a good purpose for everybody instead of ducking and weaving.

“That [ducking questions] certainly does any council at any time a great deal of harm.”

Cr Cunial and council CEO Dennis Hovenden insisted council’s media policy “works extremely well” and “is not broken”.

Crs Aitken, Bolam, Quinn McCormack, Lilian O’Connor and Steve Toms voted for the push to improve relations with the local media.

Crs Cunial, Colin Hampton and Sandra Mayer voted against the move.

“The press are not infallible,” Cr Hampton said.

“No matter what you can say or do, they will write it the way they want to write it. They will cut the stories the way they want to cut them.”

Council officers can only speak to the media with the permission of the CEO.

Councillors, as elected representatives, are able to talk to journalists but “any statements must not bring council or the organisation into disrepute” according to the councillors’ code of conduct.

The CEO is council’s spokesperson for operational aspects of council.

First published in the Frankston Times – 5 June 2017

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