FDA response: ‘Knee-jerk’ ban on civil service media contact ‘only made to sate unfounded and misguided ministerial mistrust’

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude has confirmed changes to the Civil Service Code, stating that civil servants must ensure they have ministerial authorisation for any contact with the media.

As reported in The Guardian, The Mail, The TelegraphFinancial Times and Civil Service World, FDA General Secretary Dave Penman has responded that this "blanket ban on media contact for civil servants - made just 51 days before a General Election - is an unnecessary, unworkable and unjustified restriction on the work of the civil service."

An editorial piece in The Mail and Mayor of London Boris Johnson have also both criticised the Civil Service Code changes. 

The FDA has issued a press release, in which Penman said: "The public has a right to open and transparent public services, yet this change now requires Ministerial authorisation before a civil servant can respond or make any contact with the media - from a prosecutor being asked for comment outside of court, to a job centre manager dealing with a local news story.

"Guidance to regulate contact between civil servants and the media is already in place and we can see no justification for this sudden, drastic change, other than intimidating civil servants into silence.

"Rather than being a genuine attempt to improve public services, this knee-jerk decision seems to have only been made to sate unfounded and misguided ministerial mistrust."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman has said that the amendment merely clarifies rules on official contact that were already in place, and said that David Cameron "doesn't share the view that has been expressed by some trade unions" that the change would make whistle-blowing by officials more difficult.

Penman responded: "Whatever exemptions may have been made for whistle-blowing, the unnecessary and unjustified changes made to the Civil Service Code will have the effect of making civil servants think twice before dealing with or responding to the media.

"The FDA feels this can only create a more opaque culture and is interested to see how the Prime Minister thinks this change will help lead to more openness and transparency in the civil service."

Background documents
Letter from Minister for the Cabinet Office to unions on changes to Civil Service Management Code
Civil Service Management Code including media change
Revised Civil Service Code
Guidance note on changes to the Civil Service Code