City to tighten media policy

UP FOR DEBATE: Two new policies are before City of Greater Bendigo councillors.

UP FOR DEBATE: Two new policies are before City of Greater Bendigo councillors.

Bendigo councillors must "positively promote work of council"

CITY of Greater Bendigo is expected to tighten its media policy and create guidelines surrounding the release of information to councillors. 

Two policies have been developed in response to a state government-appointed Councillor Conduct Panel report earlier this year and will ensure all information from the city and councillors "positively promotes the work of council". 

The panel interviewed councillors Lisa Ruffell, Elise Chapman and Helen Leach late last year after complaints were made about Cr Ruffell's handling of concerns made by Amicus.

ouncillors will this week vote on the Councillor Access to Information and the Communications and Media policies, which have been created following the panel. 

The Communications and Media policy states that councillors will be able to make personal comments, as long as they don't undermine the council. 

The policy states that all external communication should be reviewed by the council's media team to "ensure consistency of messaging and design and improved readability". 

"Media statements... will not contain remarks of a personal, derogatory, defamatory, insulting or offensive nature directed at current or former councillors," it states. 

"Media statements are not a platform for grand-standing, self-promotion or providing misleading or inaccurate information."

The Councillor Access to Information policy goes on to outline that councillors "are entitled to receive information necessary to exercise their function as members of the council". 

However councillors can be denied information if deemed unnecessary.

Grounds of which information can be denied include if the information is irrelevant, personal, or confidential, if it would unreasonably divert or extend council resources or if it is not required for council to perform a function. 

Cr Elise Chapman said the recommendation inhibited councillors' rights to information. 

"It's clear to me that's why it's designed the way it has been," she said. 

"In my opinion this is not what the panel recommended - in fact it's quite the opposite. I'm not surprised, though."

Cr James Williams said it was disappointing that a policy had to be formed.

"I do have concerns when councillors deliberately speak against policy however it is okay to raise debate - it's getting that balance right," he said. 

"I don't think we should take a negative approach but having free speech is an important part of democracy."

Cr Williams said there had been some "side attractions", that should be put to rest. 

"I don't consider these past issues all that significant and we need to move on. Hopefully this will clear the air," he said. 

"The rules are only there for people who want to obey them though; it will fall on the good will of councillors."

Cr Rod Fyffe said common sense should prevail. 

"We do need to respect various officers and conduct ourselves properly," he said. 

Cr Rod Campbell said the policy came down to good, clear guidelines and good governance.

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