Councils in the media

CommsCamp15 – media law

The Defamation Act 2013: Complete and Unabridged

This session was led by David Banks who you can find on Twitter @DBanksy

  • Changes to libel law came in on 1 January 2014 via the Defamation Act 2013
  • 12-month time limit to start legal action for libel if it appeared in print or online – used to be no time limit for online, this has now been brought into line with print
  • libel claimants have to show that their reputation has been seriously harmed
  • if you’ve got something wrong, apologise early and remove or correct defamatory content
  • if a media or other outlet has got something wrong about you, you may be able to ask that a correction/apology is prominently displayed, The Times recently put a correction on their front page
  • apologies and corrections are legally considered to undo any harm caused. This can be significant, as was seen in the Sunday Mirror and Midland Heart Housing Association ‘Benefits Street’ case
  • if you’re issuing press releases or similar about prosecutions, stick to the facts of the case and avoid comment on the character or behaviour of the person who’s been prosecuted
  • if frontline workers are attacked they can take out a personal libel case, councils and other public sector organisations are becoming increasingly politically wary of taking action on individuals’ behalf. In 2012 The Guardian questioned if councils should be doing this 
  • newspapers and other publishers are not immediately liable for unmoderated comments under their articles, however they do become liable if they’re notified of an issue and don’t do something about it
  • the comments function on Facebook pages cannot be turned off or moderated, but comments can be hidden or deleted. Facebook would be liable for comments made if they were notified of libellous content and they didn’t take any action
  • a council cannot sue for libel, as reported by The Independent following an action brought by Derbyshire County Council against The Times and others, “because any governmental body should be open to uninhibited public criticism and to allow such actions would place an undesirable fetter on freedom of speech.”
  • What is the definition of a ‘publisher’? If you have more than two people publishing news-related content, you may be defined as a publisher and be sued for libel as outlined in the Crime and Courts Act 2013. Exceptions include public bodies and charities publishing “news-related material in connection with the carrying out of its functions.” and multi-author blogs that come under “microbusiness” definitions
  • From 3 November 2015, publishers that are not part of a charter-approved regulator, and are sued for libel or harassment, may end up bearing both their and the claimant’s costs (again, as outlined in the Crime and Courts Act 2013)
  • The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) which replaced the Press Complaints Commission post-Leveson inquiry, will not be charter-approved, but another regulator – IMPRESS – aims to be

Photo: The Defamation Act 2013: Complete and Unabridged by RobertSharp via Flickr


Getting ready for 7 May

 Infographic showing candidate  and constituency information for South Cambridgeshire , including the 2010 results Just one week to go until the General and Local elections, which in the district I work in means one Parliamentary*, 19 district and four parish polls.

Working with elections, graphics, web and mapping colleagues, we wanted to pull together some useful tools to help local voters. Looking at what other councils have done previously, we plumped for an online polling station finder and infographics showing Parliamentary and District Council candidates and previous results.

Find my polling station

As a rural district, my area is entirely made up of villages. We have 120 polling stations, but only one location per village as we tend to run double stations. Most stations are in the same place each year, so why the need for a map, especially when we send out polling cards which give all of the relevant information?

  • polling cards are often mislaid so it helps voters to easily find out where their polling station is
  • we want to help dispell the assumption that you need your polling card to be able to vote
  • there are always new people moving into villages who may not know where the station usually is
  • polling stations do sometimes move – three are in diferent locations this year
  • there are up to three polls to vote in depending on which village you live in – the map tells you which polls are being held in each village, which is especially useful as residents vote in two different parliamentary constituencies

    You can find the map here – covering the whole district. We’re looking forward to seeing how many people use it in the run up to, and on, polling day.


    Infographic showing candidates for the South Cambridgeshire Balsham ward on 7 ay 2015, plus previous 2011 election resultInformation about candidates for all polls is available on the council and other websites, as are details about previous poll results. It’s not all in one place though, so taking a leaf from the fantastic election work from Birmingham City Council’s newsroom over the last few years, we’ve designed infographics for the Parliamentary and District elections. 

    Each infographic is available on the Council website as PDFs, and via Flickr as image files with a creative commons licence. We’ve also provided them to election count and local media via Dropbox, and sent links to local political bloggers who have kindly shared them with their followers.

    Why no infographics for Parish Councils? Logistically, creating them for the four Parish Councils going to poll, and the 28 which have seen candidates elected unopposed, is more difficult:

    • candiates tend to stand in just their name without political affiliation
    • there are many candidates for many seats – often more than ten at a time
    • many are elected unopposed, so there is not always comparative voting data to display. 

    We have still made candidate information available, but via the standard electoral Statement of Persons Nominated and Declaration of Results. It may be that we’ll come up with a more user-friendly way to do this in the future.

    Images: infographics from South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Flickr stream

    *When I say one Parliamentary poll, constituency boundaries mean that we deal with one constituency, but only some of our residents vote in it – some vote in the neighbouring constituency which is dealt with by a neighbouring council. And we also take on a ward of yet another council into our constituency. 

    Small details


    Last week, I heard an interview that refused to stop popping up in my head. It illustrated how a small detail can make a huge difference to how people feel.

    The interview was on BBC Radio Four with a mother of one of the girls who was abused by the Oxford grooming gang. It was broadcast the day after a Serious Case Review was published which slammed various agencies including both the Police and County Council, finding that over 300 children had been abused by the gang over 15 years.

    Of the police, the mother said: “almost all of the police that we dealt with responded to us as human beings. They were concerned, they were empathetic, they were completely out of their depth in being able to realise what was going on, but they did try.” She also recounted how after  the criminal trial in 2013, where seven men were convicted of abusing six girls including her daughter, the Chief Constable visited the house to personally apologise.

    When speaking about social services, her tone was far less forgiving. You could hear her anger as she spoke about her contact with them, both as she tried to keep her daughter away from the gang, and after the trial. 

    She explained how both she and her daughter had both received a letter of apology only a few days earlier: “That might have given us some comfort or satisfaction if it wasn’t for the fact that it was so close to the Review coming out and the letter was a photocopy. Even the signature was a photocopy. They couldn’t even spend the time to personally sign their letters of apology. And that basically says it all about the County Council and how we’ve been treated all the way along.” 

    That small detail, that it was a photocopy, undid any possible good and reinforced an already bad opinion. Yet her opinion of the police was far more objective, even though the review criticised their actions as much as those of social services. For this mother, the photocopy wasn’t a small detail, it was a massive issue. And it shows that even in – perhaps especially in – awful situations like this, the small details really do matter.

    With thanks to @katebentham for her advice on this post

    BBC News report on the Serious Case Review:

    Photo credit: I’ve got mail – concrete and nail envelopes by Sharon Pazner via Flickr

    CommsCamp14 – views on video

    Class of 2012

    Yesterday’s CommsCamp14 was all about things beginning with C: communications, cake, channels, collaboration, content, communities and chests (getting stuff off them). The C this post is about is (video) cameras.

    When people were asked ahead of time to bat some session ideas around, I suggested a video topic as a way to share and learn from others. Thankfully, digital storyteller John Popham was on hand to guide it – he also filmed this session and others. This was particularly handy as I missed the start, so have been able to catch up on what I missed. Here are the  key points I took away:

    • content is more important than quality
    • don’t forget that not everyone can, or wants to, access video. You need to consider if you want/need to reach these people in another way through another channel/s
    • hearing people’s stories in their own words is powerful
    • be brave and cover the ‘we could do better’ as well as ‘we’re great at this’. Ask stakeholders for their honest opinions to share with colleagues at all levels
    • colleagues outside of comms teams have video skills, use them to tell their customers’ and services’ stories
    • if you have a smartphone you can shoot video. iPhones and iMovie are easy to use and you can cut out background noise to a certain extent, try to shoot in as quiet a place as possible if you can in the first place though
    • John cited a BBC person saying that they can’t tell the difference between footage taken on a high-end smartphone and that from a BBC camera. You don’t need expensive or separate equipment. Adding a microphone can make a difference though, and a tripod can be handy too
    • video and streaming Council meetings – fewer members of the public attending. First attempt by one council had 450 viewers. Pop a microphone by one of the speakers for the audio system and stream live if possible. Ask the Chairman to announce that filming will be taking place to remind people. Worried about bad behaviour? Anecdotally, video has improved it at some meetings
    • consider making videos available on a creative commons open licence so they can be used by other people, bloggers, groups and websites like Wikipedia. If your footage is used out of context, you still have the full version that can be used to give the correct position
    • local bloggers are already videoing and tweeting live from some Council meetings. If they can do it, why can’t you?
    • try not to just have talking heads, get a bit more creative and think about what you want to show
    • enthusiasm for video shouldn’t mean it becomes a default medium, challenge why people want to use it, be clear about what it’s for and if it fits the needs of the target audience and objectives. Ask what you want people watching to think, feel and do
    • how will it be promoted and shown? If you directing people to further information like a webpage or form, is it fit for purpose or does it need any work done on it? A rousing call to action that leads people to awful information is an own goal
    • using video for internal comms? Check that people will be able to watch or hear it on their desk PCs, and put something in place for colleagues who don’t have one – shared tablets for bin crews were mentioned
    • Videoscribe from Sparkol was mentioned as a good tool to create animated videos and bring information presentation to life
    • if you shoot a video and it doesn’t look great, or people don’t want to appear on camera, try putting the audiotrack to pictures, sketches or animation that illustrates what’s being spoken about
    • consider using screen shots of online content/forms to walk people through where to find or fill in information
    • subtitles for videos can be useful if people are deaf or can’t watch with sound. If you can’t subtitle or caption, consider adding a trackable link alongside the video that provides the same information in written format
    • link to what other people have done, it may even be possible that you could use the bulk of another organisation’s video for council services like elections, food safety or similar. Why reinvent the wheel when you could top and tail content that is already available? Residents tend to only look for/see information from their own council anyway
    • tailor the length of your video to the channel you’re posting on – shorter often better on social media as people more likely to be watching on mobile device in shorter chunks. Thirty seconds to a minute was suggested as a good length. Vine videos are only six seconds long, so ideal for bite-sized info. Here’s one I shot on my iPhone and uploaded via 3G at a recent event:

    and another from the CommsCamp14 lunch session:

    • how are you going to measure and evaluate the impact of your video? Are you looking for people to sign-up to a service, click through to information or come to an event for example? Trackable links are useful as are follow-up surveys or building in ‘how did you hear about this’ into sign-up information
    • short and sharp often feels more authentic than scripted, glossily produced video. Asking people quickfire questions for short replies in their own words can be much more engaging than a scripted, pre-approved line. Authenticity rules
    • C is for content. It’s more important than quality.

    Photo used under creative commons licence: Class of 2012 by Dave Lawler on Flickr

    Crisis comms in a digital age

    LIttle boy standing by computerWith the Fox News Twitter account hacked earlier this month, and the compromising of The Sun’s website last night, have you updated your crisis comms planning for the digital age?


    The Fox News Twitter account was hacked over the 4th July holiday weekend. Tweets sent by hackers claimed that President Obama had been assasinated. Here’s the New York Times coverage

    Much of the criticism of Fox News focused on the slowness of their response – the tweets were up for 10 hours – and the lack of explanation on their website about what was happening and why.

    David Meerman Scott sums up lessons to learn here

    Twitter also has clear advice on what steps to take if your account has been compromised if you can still log in and if you can’t

    What plans do you have in place if your corporate Twitter account/s are compromised? And have you asked your Councillors and staff who tweet to consider the same thing?


    The Guardian reports that last night saw “apparently the first hack of a major UK newspaper’s website.” with a group called LulzSec claiming to have infiltrated The Sun’s website and email system. 

    The same group also claim to have hacked into a US Police website last month.

    While you’d hope that the hacking of a Council or related website wouldn’t be on the agenda , it’s not unheard of.

    Wesminster City Council’s transactional website was targeted in 2010, apparently to prove a point about safety of information.

    While the Visit Cambridge website was hacked in 2009 and its homepage changed, as picked up by Dave Briggs

    Have you sat down with your ICT team and discussed what you would do if your Council’s website were hacked? What are the potential implications and who and what services would be affected?

    While ICT deal with the techological side of things, what actions, messages and channels do you have ready to deploy?

    If you haven’t already done it, you need to discuss all of the ‘what ifs’ and get a plan down. You never know if and when you might need it.

    Creative Commons: 3 year old hacker by Neoliminal on Flickr

    Paid more than the PM?

    Lots of coins, some stacked in pilesI suspect that one of the ‘facts’ many people will fall on as the Andrea Hill/Suffolk CC story plays out is that she was ‘paid more than the Prime Minister’.

    It’s an eye-catching claim that is easily trotted out, but it’s misleading. David Cameron chooses to take a salary of £142,50. He could claim a full salary entitlement of £198,661 – a ministerial salary of £132,923 plus a parliamentary salary of £65,738. Suddenly, the pay ‘gulf’ is a lot narrower.

    It’s not all about salary either. Add the use of official residences – Downing Street and Chequers – as well as a ministerial car, expenses, pension and other allowances, and the real figure is much higher.

    PM-related earnings also continue after leaving 10 Downing Street. Touring the international lecture circuit, giving after-dinner speeches and publishing autobiographies all boost the bank balance. Council chiefs aren’t regulars on the bestseller list.

    Putting aside the PM pay argument, council chiefs are well-paid on a public sector scale. However, they’re running essential services in large organisations with hundreds of staff and multi-million pound budgets. You need someone highly qualified to take on the job, and for that you need to pay. More than the PM though? I don’t think so.

    UPDATE: Only a few hours after posting, the Daily Mail covered the story under the headline – Fat-cat council boss who earned £75k-a-year more than PM ‘resigns after outcry over her salary’

    Creative commons: Coins by xJasonRogersx on Flickr