CLAIMS of “several instances of incorrect, unverified or potentially damaging information being provided to the media” by Frankston councillors have been unable to be substantiated.
The allegation was made in a draft amended media policy tabled at April’s public council meeting ordering all councillors to inform the mayor Sandra Mayer or CEO Dennis Hovenden “of any comments that they have made or are intending to make to the media” (‘Councillors’ free speech threatened’, The Times 18/5/15).
Councillors deferred debate on the proposed amended media policy.
The CEO and mayor refused to disclose examples of incorrect information or retractions when asked by The Times.
A response now provided by council under freedom of information laws fails to satisfactorily explain why the council officer who wrote the amended draft media policy made reference to incorrect information provided to the media by councillors.
The council officer is no longer employed by council and no documentation is available to substantiate the claims made in the draft policy.
Remaining media and communications department staff were instead asked by council’s FOI officer, after The Times lodged its FOI request, for examples of “somewhat inaccurate information” provided to the media which were not documented since “each of these occasions occurred via verbal discussions between staff”.
Staff recalled three examples of “somewhat inaccurate information” being clarified, but again these examples were only able to be provided after the FOI request was lodged, and were not available to the council officer writing the draft media report, since clarifications were “provided verbally to the relevant journalist and not documented”.
An internal search of council documents found no mention of “media retractions”, “media corrections” or “media release amendments”.
In providing the FOI response, council’s FOI officer stated: “It is my understanding that the intention of the draft media policy was not to prevent councillors expressing their views, but rather to ensure that information provided by staff and councillors is accurate.”
The Times understands councillors protested when a proposal to ban them from talking to the media without the mayor or CEO’s permission was floated while the amended media policy was being drafted.
Councillors are elected representatives of the community, not employees of council, and as such should be able to express opinions without being gagged by council.