by Dan Slee
There’s another General Election looming. This is a snap one. If you work for or with local government you’ll need to be aware of some important things.
So, here we are again. It’s election time. Put out the bunting.
Judging by a snap poll on comms2point0 there’s not many comms people who are thrilled by this. Some 60 per cent said they were not greeting this process with glee.
A while back I wrote some guidelines for social media and I’ve updated and simplified them.
This time around, as unexpected as it is there’s going to be a few people caught out by planned communications during the election campaign. Seek guidance. But if you can show that it was pre-planned and you stay politically neutral you should be okay.
But whatever you do, communicate these while things are quiet. You'll need a steer over when Purdah for the General Election starts from your Returning Officer and legal team. If your organisation has multiple accounts spread scross the frontline and elsehwhere make sure they know the guidance.
Careless tweets sink ships.
What is Purdah?
There’s this funny period in the run-up to an election which sees local government comms team change behaviour.
Gone are the press releases from politicians and in comes quotes from officers. Why? To ensure that the council cannot be accused of political bias in the run up to polling day.
It’s been around for decades and local government comms teams have got a pretty good grasp of what this entails. It means under The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity (Local Government Act 1986) that newsletters, press releases, conferences, badges and web pages are affected.
The code says:
The period between the notice of an election and the election itself should preclude proactive publicity in all its forms of candidates and other politicians involved directly in the election.
Publicity should not deal with controversial issues or report views, proposals or recommendations in such a way that identifies them with individual members or groups of members.
However, it is acceptable for the authority to respond in appropriate circumstances to events and legitimate service enquiries provided that their answers are factual and not party political.
Members holding key political or civic positions should be able to comment in an emergency or where there is a genuine need for a member level response to an important event outside the authority’s control.
Proactive events arranged in this period should not involve members likely to be standing for election.
What this means is that the council’s resources must not be or even appear to an observer to be used for party political ends in this period of heightened political sensitivity.
Six golden rules during Purdah
1. No publicity will be given to matters which are politically controversial.
2. The general presumption will be that no references will be made to individual politicians in press releases (except where there is a valid emergency).
3. Great caution will be exercised before undertaking any significant media exercise unless it can be demonstrated that this was included in the forward diary before the election was called.
4. No photographs of candidates in the election will be issued.
5. Before any request for council photographs and other materials is considered, enquiries will be made as to the use to which they are to be put and an appropriate restriction on use imposed if supplied.
6. The position of Mayor as the figurehead of the authority is different and material will be issued, providing it is not of a political nature.
But what teams struggle with is social media. How does this affect the Twitter stream? Here’s a cut-out-and-keep guidance for people who operate council social media channels (disclaimer: check it with your legal team first).
Social media channels
1. Please explain that as a council channel of communication you are governed by Purdah in a period before an election. It may be helpful to tweet a link to an explanation of Purdah for guidance.
2. Do not share content from political parties, politicians or political opinion.
3. Do not add content on matters which are politically controversial.
4. Do not tweet text, images or video of political parties, politicians or subjects which are politically controversial.
5. Do not stage a significant digital campaign unless it can be demonstrated that this was included in the forward diary before the election was called.
6. Tweets by and about the Mayor may be retweeted as long as they are not of a political nature.
7. In exceptional circumstances please first seek permission from the communications unit to tweet or retweet a comment by a politician during Purdah.
Third party social media profiles
Council staff who update third party social media profiles as part of their job are governed by Purdah. These profiles include business partnership profiles which the council supports.
There are two options:
1. Opt out: For the duration of Purdah hand over ALL admin to a non-council member of the partnership and allow them to add Purdah-restricted content that council staff are unable to post. Resume adding content and managing after the election.
2. Opt in: Council employees can continue to add content or share admin duties but ALL content is governed by Purdah restrictions.
Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.
Picture credit: University of Washington Libraries Digital Collection / Flickr.