Civil servants in the UK could be fired if they speak with journalists without first asking for permission from a government minister, the Telegraph reports.
The new measure is contained in the Civil Service Code, which regulates the jobs of about 400,000 public employees across the country. The Code was updated with the new language on March 16.
According to The Telegraph’s Ben Riley-Smith, the measure “effectively bans any communication with journalists unless a senior member of the government has given explicit approval.”
A source in the Cabinet Office said that the move was an attempt to increase ministerial accountability of civil servants in their department, the Telegraph reports.
The move raises some doubts about the government’s commitment to transparency. The Civil Service is a public body created to support the government, but they are politically neutral employees.
Here’s a screenshot of the new Civil Service Code, where we’ve underlined the new rule.
The move has already attracted the critics from the FDA, the workers’ union for the employees in the public service.
“The announcement of a blanket ban on media contact for civil servants – just 51 days before a General Election – is an unnecessary, unworkable and unjustified restriction on the work of the civil service,” FDA General Secretary Dave Penman said in a statement.
The union fears that the “knee-jerk decision seems to have only been made to sate unfounded and misguided ministerial mistrust,” according to the statement from the FDA.
Cabinet Office spokesperson commented on the new measure saying: “Civil servants must clear material for publication in advance, and [the new measure] brings the obligations on civil servants to obtain ministerial clearance in line with the existing obligations on special advisers.”
A footnote to the new rule in the Civil Service code notes that civil servants may be protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act (the so-called whistleblowers’ law) if they leak information to the press.
Nevertheless, journalists and civil servants took to Twitter to complain against the new regulation with a mix of irony and frustration:
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