CAN someone please let me know if we are still living in Britain, where freedom of speech and democracy are supposed to be held dear.

I ask because of the latest advice issued by the National Association of Local Councils to all parish councils.

It advises all member councils to adopt a new "media policy" barring councillors from speaking to journalists without the written consent of the whole authority.

The policy would also ban journalists from contacting councillors directly - all contact would have to be made through the council clerk.

It goes further. If councillors dared to flout the policy, and spoke to journalists without consent, they would not be permitted to use the title "councillor".

It is completely outrageous to suggested that people who are elected to represent local communities cannot speak to a journalist - not even their local paper - without being stifled by red tape.

Imagine trying to get a comment on a local issue and having to wait for a council meeting to approve permission for the relevant people to say something on behalf of those who elected them.

I don't always agree with Eric Pickles but I'm pleased to say he's jumped on the daft suggestion from a great height, describing it as "Stalinist".

The worry is that I've already come across councils here in the North-East which don't like us talking to councillors and say we should direct our questions to paid officers.

We've politely told them to get stuffed.

Politicians at every level should have the freedom to engage with journalists because freedom of speech is a vital part of our democracy. Councils and governments want to control the media and write their own headlines.

We must never let that happen.