At the February 23 Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting, councillors voted five to four to develop a draft media policy.
Cr Deborah Novak brought a notice of motion (NOM) to the meeting, asking “the general manager Ashley Lindsay [to] develop a draft media policy … and report back to the March CVC meeting”.
Mayor Jim Simmons and councillors Karen Toms, Peter Ellem and Greg Clancy were in favour, however, councillors Richie Williamson, Arthur Lysaught, Andrew Baker and Jason Kingsley opposed the NOM.
Cr Novak provided examples of media policies from seven NSW councils, including CVC’s neighbouring councils, Coffs Harbour City and Richmond Valley.
“Communicating with the media is an important part of achieving council’s broader objectives and commitment to transparency and open, honest communication with the public,” the Coffs Harbour City Council media policy states.
“Media coverage is a key driver of organisational reputation – hence the need for a positive framework for interaction and engagement.”
Similarly, the Richmond Valley Council’s policy states: “The aim of this policy is to provide timely and accurate information to the media in a way which is professional, enhances council’s public image, limits the possibility of misinformation and maintains positive relations with the media.”
Cr Novak contended in her NOM: “A media policy sets out a standard set of operating procedures to provide a clear and concise pathway for council staff and all media platforms to engage with each other … [and] ensures the interface between council and traditional, social and digital media platforms is managed appropriately and efficiently, so as to maximise the benefits for council and to minimise the risk of adverse publicity, misunderstandings, inaccurate information or inappropriate sharing of information.”
In her opinion, Cr Novak wrote, “The Clarence Valley Council media advisor position was made redundant in August 2019, as a cost saving for the ‘Fit for The Future’, which she says, “created an unforeseen knowledge gap of how CVC staff, media and industry professionals and social media platforms should engage with each other.”
However, an unnamed CVC staff member wrote in the ‘Staff Comment’ section of the report to council that Cr Novak had “incorrectly” advised councillors.
“In an organisational structural change in 2019, the communications coordinator position was removed from the structure to reduce duplication of activity,” the staff member wrote.
“Council’s Community and Industry Engagement team has professional staff responsible for organisational communications.
“Within this team is a dedicated communications officer who is responsible for advice to media as well as other forms of formal communication.
“The NOM also references there being ‘no official documents’ to guide communications, which is also incorrect.
“Communications is an operational activity of council and external communications is in accordance with our communications procedural framework and managed within delegations.”
Despite this assertion, the Independent does not communicate with CVC via the communications officer and, instead, makes enquiries via the general manager’s office.
In the weeks following Mr Bancroft’s departure, the Independent’s editor, John Warden, made an agreement with CVC’s GM, Ashley Lindsay, who subsequently made himself available for in-depth interviews at times nominated by the Independent – the Friday before committee meetings and the Friday following full council meetings.
During questions on the matter, Cr Ellem asked: “Does the council have any form of written media policy or has it ever had one?”
Mr Lindsay said that CVC was in the process of drafting a communications policy “that we’ve been working on it for a while”….
Cr Ellem: “Does it have a high content to do with media policy?”
Mr Lindsay: “I’ll have to go and look at it, I haven’t reviewed it yet … [we’ll] take on board the direction from this meeting today.”
Cr Baker asked, “Have the media made any submissions or complaints to you about a lack of specific media policy?”
Mr Lindsay: “No, not a lack of; [but] from the local Independent, [there’s been] more commentary from them, but not other media.”
Mayor Simmons asked if the current staff delegations could “be incorporated” in the draft media policy.
Mr Lindsay said the delegations were “going to be a part of communications policy we are preparing in draft form”.
Cr Lysaught asked: “If there’s a communications policy and a media policy, what would be the difference?”
Mr Lindsay: “We’ll bring back a report if this gets adopted today and hopefully clear it up.”