Proposed policy limits media access
The City Hall of Portage la Prairie. (FILE PHOTO)
The issue of media accessibility to elected officials was raised at Monday night's Portage la Prairie city council meeting when Coun. Brent Budz introduced an external communications policy.
“This is a new policy that has been drafted by administration. The policy was developed to address external communications with the City of Portage la Prairie. The purpose of this policy is to ensure that external communications with the City of Portage la Prairie is well co-ordinated, effectively managed, and responsive to the information needs of council, municipal employees, the public and stakeholders,” said Budz.
“The communications co-ordinator is basically a quarterback of communications for the city,” he said.
The policy would introduce a communications co-ordinator and implement social media within city hall, but it was the incoming media relations section of the policy that raised concerns among media outlets during the meeting.
The policy states that the communications co-ordinator will act as the initial point of contact when media are looking to interview an elected official, in which case media would only be able to contact elected officials during city hall office hours. Prior to this policy the media was unrestricted in its access to the mayor and council.
No member of council raised any concerns or questioned media access to them through the new policy, instead choosing to focus mostly on the social media aspect of the policy, except for Budz and Mayor Irvine Ferris. Ferris stressed he would talk to media if contacted directly instead of through the communications co-ordinator.
“If they call me, I'm going to talk to them,” said Ferris.
City manager Jean-Marc Nadeau, who drafted the policy, said the intent regarding media was to co-ordinate with the stakeholders, not the citizens.
“Logistically, with the citizens it would be near impossible (to co-ordinate) given that they call at all hours of the day and evenings. The intent of this particular section of the policy is to co-ordinate with all our partners, specifically the media, to ensure that there isn't a waste of time.
“That they don’t call any of you with a question or request, and you may or may not have the answer, and you may have to go to a department head anyway to provide proper information back to the media so that we don’t have miscommunication or misinformation out into the public. The intent is to have the person at the office to record those requests, seek and prepare the information,” said Nadeau.
Members of the media did meet with Nadeau on March 20 when the policy was first introduced and concerns of media accessibility to council were raised with the city manager, as were issues regarding freedom of information coming out of city hall.
During the council meeting, Nadeau claimed that information coming out of city hall would not be controlled by administration, yet during the meeting on March 20 Nadeau acknowledged that the message coming out of city hall was controlled. Also during the council meeting he said he couldn't stop council members from speaking directly with the media, but during the March 20 meeting he said he had to “put his foot down” on media contacting elected officials directly.
The policy is expected to be voted on at the next council meeting on April 13.