Claims City of Rockingham social media policy will muzzle free speech for councillors

Councillor Matt Whitfield.
Councillor Matt Whitfield.

CITY of Rockingham Councillor Matt Whitfield claims a proposed social media policy will “muzzle free speech and trample freedom of speech”.

“Local councillors are being asked to forego a lot of their human rights,” he said.

“Local government is the level that is most in touch with the residents and to deny councillors these information sharing opportunities is not acceptable.”

Mayor Barry Sammels said the proposed communications and social media policy established protocols for the City of Rockingham’s official communications with the community to ensure the City was professionally and accurately represented and to maximise a positive public perception of the City.

“This aim aligns with that of the WALGA policy model which is being used as the industry standard,” he said.

But Cr Whitfield said he was concerned about the policy, which will be considered at the next council meeting.

“This policy has been taken from the WALGA format policy and I believe it is good to have sound policies in place,” he said.

But he said it could be contradictory for councillors to avoid damaging the reputation of the local government and be factually correct.

“What if a City project was running well over time or over budget and that information was in the public domain?” he said.

“As a councillor, it is my duty to represent the community and inform them.

“If I were to release that factual information, then some on the City could deem that to be damaging to the reputation.

“How can a councillor freely relay information to the residents if he or she is muzzled?”

Mayor Barry Sammels said Cr Whitfield’s comments about a possible contradiction were not supported.

“The two conditions raised are direct extracts from the WA Local Government Association’s policy template, which is being used as the industry standard,” he said.

Cr Whitfield said it was unfair that the policy would apply to elected members in their personal capacity on a private page.

“This means that an elected member cannot promote themselves, any business they might have or any family member or friend or organisation, [it] also means that a councillor cannot, even on their own personal page, like or oppose any political person running for any office,” he said.

But Cr Sammels said Cr Whitfield’s comments were incorrect and not supported.

He said councillors would not be required to moderate material that was promotional, soliciting or commercial in nature; promotes or opposes any person campaigning for election to the Council, appointment to official office, or any ballot; or contains inappropriate content or comment at the discretion of the City.