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LEAKING INFORMATION TO THE MEDIA

ISSUE

Councillors who leak confidential information to the media for their own political purposes undermine the democratic decision-making process.

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SCENARIO

A regional council is considering a major and expensive sports ground redevelopment. Chris, a longstanding councillor, opposes the project but doesn’t think he has the numbers to win the vote. So he leaks confidential briefing material, which focuses on the downsides of the proposal, to generate media interest and provoke community outrage.

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WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

Individual councillors are using the local media to score points and pursue political goals. Using the media to force particular decisions, attack colleagues and undermine the council is neither appropriate nor legitimate. It deliberately subverts the democratic decision-making process. Leaking confidential information is a breach of the Local Government Act 1989 and is punishable. It also reduces the confidence and willingness of external bodies to deal with the council.

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HOW TO TACKLE THIS SITUATION

  • councillors need to understand the nature of confidential information –  it should be very clear if it is not intended for public airing because publicising confidential information is illegal and punishable under the Local Government Act 1989
  • councils should make sure that a good level of information is available to the public through various channels – this will help to prevent leaking
  • councillors need to use the media appropriately as it is an important channel for councils to communicate with their communities and for communities to become informed about local issues
  • council should recognise and support the legitimacy of ward councillors getting publicity on local issues
  • the difference between the views of the council and individual councillors needs to be understood by everyone – councillors who liaise with the media must reinforce this
  • council should develop protocols for working with the media which improve understanding.

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