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Be careful what you ask for.

Betsan Powys | 11:33 UK time, Tuesday, 13 May 2008

A little while ago AMs asked for guidance on what they can and can't do with their websites, if they're funded through the OCA - the Office Costs Allowance. AMs can claim up to £13,800 a year for things like maintaining and equipping an office, hiring rooms for surgeries, paying for cleaning, mobile phone bills and newspapers - and if they choose, setting up websites.

They got an answer with electronic bells on.

The good news first. 'Likely to be allowable' are the following:

information about you
information about the Assembly, debates etc
details of your surgeries
services that allow you to promote your Assembly activities, but not your political activies, digitally. This might include the use of podcasts, weblogs and other related activities.

But it's no to conducting business activities, obtaining inappropriate private benefit, fund raising, encouraging people to join a particular political party and no too to "advancing perspectives or arguments with the intention of promoting the interests of any person, political party or organisation you support, or damaging the interests of any other such person, party or organisation".

Then the really tricky bit - the guidance on content.

AM websites "shouldn't seek, directly or indirectly, to compare a Member's party favourably with another, promote one party at the expense of another or seek to undermine the reputations of political opponents. In this context, the selective use of statistics should also be avoided. This means that stating the following on your website would not be acceptable:

"Investment in our national health service will have trebled over the past 10 years to 2007/08".

"Council tax has already increased by a staggering amount since 1999".

It's ok to tell the people who voted for you (or indeed didn't but live on your patch anyway) what you've done for them but only as long as it sounds a bit like this:

"I helped the *** Theatre retain its £85,000 grant from the XYZ Council and ws delighted that they received a £400,000 increase in its grant from the government funded Arts Council for Wales for the next three years".

Can't wait.

But AMs won't stand for it.

There are rumblings about fundamental rights to free speech on behalf of constituents being breached, contempt for this 'ludicrous' attempt to 'gag' AMs and a rainbow coalition of protest against what some feel amounts to 'political censorship'.

They could of course just shun the public subsidy and do as this award-winning communicator does. As Paul Flynn put it recently:

"MPs' blogs are subjected to idiotic censorship. Criticism of other MPs is not allowed. That is one of the dozens of piddling restrictions. Where is the fun in that?

Happily this blog is liberated, self-financed and unfettered by Commons censorship.

That's why so many people read it."

Watch this well-regulated space.


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