Lawyers can help council PR, claims information unit expert

Chris Fogarty reports

Councils are needlessly censoring their activities and could publicise their services much more by seeking the advice of their legal departments, according to Local Government Information Unit director Dennis Reed.

"Too often the fear of falling foul of the law has stopped councils producing legal publicity," said Reed.

His comments come after the publication of the latest edition of The Right Side of the Law booklet, which outlines just what councils can and cannot do under the Government's Code of Practice on Publicity.

Reed said council lawyers should be consulted more often by PR staff to examine just how far local authorities could go in publicising themselves or their activities.

A survey carried out earlier this year by the Society of County and Unitary Public Relations Officers and Westminster Public Relations revealed there was still confusion about the code among PR professionals. A fifth of the 75 survey's respondents admitted having a poor understanding of the code.

The study also uncovered differing opinions between lawyers and PR staff on whether they were breaching the code on issues such as promoting homosexuality.

Reed said the problem with the code was more one of council self-censorship rather than outside legal challenges to any decisions.

The Right Side of the Law was written by Susie Parsons, former Hackney Council head of press, publicity and information. It includes a commentary on the code of practice by Cloisters' Robin Allen QC.