Monday 6 June 2011

Filming Council Meetings - More Thoughts

Further to recent posts (and events) I have been trying to think of a good reason why members of the public should not film or record open council meetings. I cannot think of one. I have given my reasons before, but a few more spring to mind. The Councillors and officers sat in the Chamber in a meeting of the full council take, between them, somewhere over £2 million per year from the public purse and make decisions on spending many millions more than that - this fact alone gives any resident of Carmarthenshire the right to quietly record the proceedings and to re-use in whatever reasonable context they wish, whether in praise or criticism. I have asked various Carmarthenshire Councillors whether they would consider signing my petition, two were quite happy to but the third (only three responded) felt that any filming was unnecessary as the public could view the meetings from the public gallery if they wished. I suppose they can but this hardly amounts to 'accessibility' does it? Do some Members and officers believe they are part of some sort of 'exclusive club' who's words and decisions are beyond question? Anyone who has attended a meeting and listened to what was said, and then read the Minutes a couple of weeks later will be aware that the two bear little relation to each other. Another argument is that filming/recording will 'stifle debate' this is complete nonsense - nobody should curb their words because a meeting is being recorded - if they do they really shouldn't be part of such a very public arena.

We are all filmed daily going about our business, we are filmed taking a tenner out of a cashpoint machine in case something is amiss - I am not trying to catch anyone out by filming meetings - if anything untoward like that happened it would be unlikely to occur in the Chamber - but if anyone wishes to observe and film council decisions, which include sums much larger than a tenner and relate them to the wider electorate - why on earth shouldn't they?
The guidance from Westminster to English councils states;
'It is essential to a healthy democracy that citizens everywhere are able to feel that their council welcomes them to observe local decision-making and through modern media tools keep others informed as to what their council is doing....transparency and openness should be the underlying principle behind everything councils do and in this digital age it is right that we modernise our approach to public access, recognising the contribution to transparency and democratic debate that social media and similar tools can make.'

Carmarthenshire Council stated that "There are many legal and practical considerations which need to be addressed and resolved before a Council can consider going down the route which you are suggesting" (Really? Like the unlawful establishment of the 'libel cost amendment' in the constitution? That didn't take much consideration, legal or otherwise) Perhaps the legal squad in County Hall are now 'considering' the subject of filming...and rest assured, so am I.
Watch this space.
Oh, and please sign my petitions


Richard said...

I think we should challenge the claim that "there are many legal and practical considerations which need to be addressed". Can they list them? How have other councils managed to overcome all of these obstacles?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the councillor who thought that the public could listen from the Public Gallery, should have a re-think on his ill thought out opinion. Doesn't he realise most people work in the day. Maybe he would like to suggest to the committee that council meetings be held in the evenings, when perchance we/us who do take an interest in council matters, could attend. Brain in gear before postulating should be a requisite for councillors and the like. Sadly we don't have this luxury when it comes down to our representatives!

Anonymous said...

Another good reason why this shower wouldn't wish for meetings to be filmed - words such as 'incomers' being used when relating to who gets what relative to planning applications, would not be seen by the majority of the public as appropriate language - nor does it exhibit appropriate conduct from those whose salaries are paid for by the taxpayer. There would be no room for such perochial attitudes if the filming of meetings, advocated by M.P. Eric Pickles, took place.

Patricia said...

Why did the police arrest someone who was not committing a crime, but was trying to open up Carmarthenshire's anti-democratic practices?
Have councillors forgotten that they are there to work on behalf of the people?