Acceptable use policy
Elected members of Salford City Council who wish to avail themselves of a councillor website (hereafter referred to as a 'Councillor Site') are required to read and sign the council's acceptable use policy for councillor websites before their website is set up.
By signing the acceptable use policy, the elected member confirms that he or she has read the city council's guidance and policy on acceptable use and data protection and accepts the provisions of it.
This policy defines the purposes for which the elected member cannot use their site. In summary these are:
- the introduction of content that may result in actions for libel, defamation or other claims for damages
- processing personal data other than for the purpose stated at the time of capture
- the promotion of any political party or campaigning organisation
- the promotion of personal financial interests or commercial ventures
- personal campaigns
- using the site in an abusive or hateful manner
Further details are given below.
A defamatory statement is one that causes an adverse effect on a person's reputation. It must be published to a third person and refer to the defamed individual. Libel, which is a form of defamation, is the publication of a statement which exposes a person to hatred, ridicule or contempt, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his office, trade or profession in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally.
Elected members may not use their Councillor Sites to publish defamatory statements or material. Anyone who believes that a councillor has defamed them will be able to take legal action directly against the councillor concerned. The relevant legislation is the Defamation Act 1996.
An elected member is only permitted to publish information in the context of the elected member's official role in respect of matters of general public interest.
Elected members have been provided with the tools to edit a Councillor Site by the city council and are responsible for the content of their own Councillor Site. The city council is not responsible for approving content put on to elected member's websites. For the avoidance of any doubt, the council does not authorise or in any way sanction the publication of statements that might be construed as defamatory.
In managing a website, elected members may receive comments, enquiries or complaints from members of the public. Visitors to the site may register to receive occasional mailings. Councillors may refer to (or publish) material that is based upon information drawn from the city council or obtained from external sources. All such personal information should be treated with care and respect for relevant data protection law.
Anyone processing personal data must comply with the eight enforceable principles of good practice. They say that data must be:
- fairly and lawfully processed
- processed for limited purposes
- adequate, relevant and not excessive
- not kept longer than necessary
- processed in accordance with the data subject's rights
- not transferred to countries without adequate protection
Personal data covers both facts and opinions about the individual. It also includes information regarding the intentions of the data controller towards the individual. The definition of processing incorporates the concepts of 'obtaining', holding' and 'disclosing'.
Further details about these eight principles can be found at the Information Commissioner's website.
The Data Protection Act applies.
By signing the acceptable use policy, the elected member confirms that he or she has read the city council's guidance and policy on data protection and accepts the provisions of it.
Because all councillor websites are funded by the city council, elected members may not use their Councillor Site to
- promote political campaigns and advocate political stances on issues
- promote a political party or persons identified with a political party
- promote or oppose a view on a question of political controversy which is identifiable of the view of one political party and not of another
- Elected members may use the "My Politics" section of their website to link to external websites of a political nature
Section 4 of the 1986 Local Government Act enabled the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice on local authority publicity. The original code was amended in 2001. The code was made more flexible in relation to publicity about individual elected members and the relevant paragraphs are:
"Publicity about individual councillors may include the contact details, the positions they hold in the council (for example a member of the Executive or chair of Overview and Scrutiny Committee) and their responsibilities. Publicity may also include information about individual councillors' proposals, decisions and recommendations only where this is relevant to their position and responsibilities within the council. All such publicity should be objective and explanatory and whilst it may acknowledge the part played by individual councillors as holders of particular positions in the council, personalisation of issues or personal image making should be avoided.
"Publicity should not be, or liable to misrepresentation as being, party political. Whilst it may be appropriate to describe policies put forward by an individual councillor which are relevant to her/his position and responsibilities within the council, and to put forward his/her justification in defence of them, this should not be done in party political terms, using political slogans, expressly advocating policies of those of a particular political party, or directly attacking policies and opinions of other parties, groups or individuals."
Representation of the People Act restrictions
During election times (from the 'notice of an election' to the election itself), most parts of elected members' websites will be suspended. Visitors will still, however, be able to contact them through the website.
Other statutory issues
Care should be taken to ensure compliance with local government legislation and local authority's policies on the following issues:
- The particular legislative requirements relating to discrimination/incitement to racial hatred etc. (Anti-Terrorism, Crime And Security Act 2001 & Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000)
- Publication of obscene material (Obscene Publications Act 1959, Protection of Children Act 1978, Criminal Justice Act 1988)
The text of all legislation is available.
Elected members' Code of Conduct
The city council has a members' code of conduct which governs the conduct of elected members as an elected representative. Their use of Councillor Sites could breach that code of conduct. The Councillor Site should not be used to breach these rules or any local protocols.
On a general level:
- The site must not be used in a way that will bring elected members or the city council into disrepute
- The site must promote equality by not discriminating unlawfully against any person, treating others with respect and not to do anything which compromises the impartiality of those who work for or on behalf of the authority
- To treat city council officers' recommendations or known views impartially
- Elected members must not disclose information given to them in confidence or information acquired, which they believe, is of a confidential nature without the consent of a person authorised to give it
- Elected members must not use their Councillor Site to disclose information which the council has considered in exempt session, or which they are on notice is confidential for any other reason
- Elected members must not use their Councillor Site to secure personal advantage or secure use for themselves or others of the resources of the authority (for instance, by advertising a commercial service or by using the site to encourage the city council to purchase a particular item or service)
Tainting of decision making through biased/closed minds
Elected members who are in positions of determining quasi-judicial processes, particularly planning and licensing applications, or determining the outcome of consultation exercises must exercise care to keep an open mind on issues which he or she may be required to make decisions.
The use of individual websites to set out a clear position on a particular issue could well provide evidence of bias based on a particular personal interest or view, or a closed mind. This would demonstrate the artificiality of the elected member then purporting to consider openly all issues in the determination of that matter.
Elected members should have regard to all relevant advice when reaching decisions and to give reasons for decisions.
Elected members must give an accurate and even-handed account of discussions or processes that lead to decisions being taken. For example, they must not give a one-sided account of the reasons for a planning application being refused.
Endorsed by Cllr John Merry, Leader of Salford City Council, January 2005.