Should H&F Council’s so called “newspaper” be covered by the same Press Complaints Commission guidelines that govern all other national and local newspapers in our country? Should all H&F Council’s advertising be covered by the rules set out by the Advertising Standards Authority? The answer is a definitive “No!” – or at least that was the answer given by the three Conservative members of H&F Council’s Standards Committee last night when considering a code of practice on Council publicity.
In fact, all three Conservatives councillors who sit on the committee argued that it was “party political” for me to even suggest that the Council’s "newspaper" should be subject to the Press Complaints Commission guidelines. They made a similar ill-tempered point when I suggested the Committee recommends that H&F Council’s advertising should be governed by the same rules of fairness and honesty that cover messages from McDonald's, Coca Cola, Pampers nappies or any other UK advertiser.
The Press Complaints Commission guidelines would require the taxpayer-funded Council "newspaper" to attain basic standards of professional journalism. These would also, for example, have provided those residents who wrote in to H&F News to complain about an item on the Goldhawk Road Industrial Estate Property Scheme a chance to have had at least one of their letters published instead of being refused by the Council’s Press Office. Thames Water would have been able to reply to the misleading nonsense H&F Council printed about an imaginary “giant crater” in Ravenscourt Park and Furnival Gardens and residents would have been more fully informed as a result.
The wording, voted through by a majority of independent and Opposition Standards Committee members, can hardly be seen as contentious. It reads “we consider that there is other guidance such as the Advertising Standards Authority and the Press Complaints Commission which might play a role in relation to Council Advertising and newspaper publications respectively”. I can’t understand why the three Conservatives voted against this. It makes me concerned about what they think it will stop their Council Administration from doing. It will be interesting to see if the Council's Conservative Cabinet overturns the Standards Committee's recommendations or not.
The Advertising Standards Authority rules and Press Complaints Commission guidelines are there to protect citizens. While some sufficiently wealthy and motivated people can always take legal action if they believe their Council is behaving outside the law, most people are not in the position to do that. So, the ASA and PCC will provide residents with an effective route to correcting anything they feel does not meet the most basic standards of honesty and fairness. I hope this approach is adopted by H&F Council. I will let you know what happens.
The Standards Committee meetings are open to the public and the press. The next meeting is scheduled to begin at 7.00pm on 1st April 2009.