Essex council asks journalists for 'balanced' headlines in new comms strategy

A new comunications strategy for Thurrock Council sets out an expectation of balance in media outlets' headlines.

The new strategy from the Essex local authority also says it might refuse to officially recognise a media organisation if they are not a member of the Independent Press Standards Association or similar.

Thurrock's Communications Strategy 2017-2020 was agreed at a council meeting last week, minutes show.

"The communications team aims to provide an efficient and professional service to the media and treat all outlets fairly. In response, the council expects the media to report in an accurate and balanced way, including use of headlines. An agreed 'right of reply' is assumed in order to concurrently explain the council’s position and protect its reputation as part of a media story," the strategy says.

It also says that it "will recognise organisations as 'media' who are are a member of the Independent Press Standards Association (IPSO) or equivalent regulator and comply with the [IPSO] Editor’s Code of Practice". Broadcasters such as the BBC, who are regulated by Ofcom, are included.

"Any organisation which has membership of such a regulatory framework will be offered a place in the 'media area' for the benefit of reporting on council meetings. Other media organisations and reporters will be welcome to report from the public area," it says.

The strategy states that if a journalist does not "reflect the council's position accurately", give it a right of reply on a story, or adhere to the IPSO code, then the council will "not engage and recognise that organisation and/or journalist as ‘media’ for a period of time determined by the council".

PRWeek understands that the policies were in part shaped by the changing media landscape, with a number of bloggers and non-traditional outlets covering council affairs alongside traditional media. In addition, the official media area in the council's chamber only has four seats, meaning some people reporting on meetings may have to use public spaces.

A document accompanying the new strategy also reveals that the council's comms budget for 2016/17 was £444,000, the majority of which is budget for its 9.6 full-time equivalent staff.

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