Thursday 26 July 2012

Carmarthenshire to pilot webcasting?....through gritted teeth

Further to Executive Board hits the road, the mystery surrounding the overtly political sounding item on Monday's Executive Board agenda 'Partnership agreement between the Labour Party and the Independent Group - Working together for a better Carmarthenshire' has been solved as we are now provided with a link. It is, as suspected, little more than a PR piece rather than anything of substance. It's all very aspirational and reads like a manifesto ('We will endeavour blah blah...'), there is nothing new and just follows the programme from the previous officer-led administration. Which is not surprising as nothing has changed. We can also safely assume that the budget cuts to the most vulnerable, such as SEN provision and elderly care are safely on the way to implementation. No sign of second thoughts either about the apparently vital services such as the evangelical bowling alley or the council rag. As if!

In true PR style, the document leads with perhaps the most hypocritical and nonsensical piece; 'Promoting Local Democracy and Transparency'. I believe my cynicism is well founded. I can't even begin to describe how far removed the council's concept of 'openness' is from the rest of the real world, yesterday's blogpost concerning press control is just one example, and the oppressive and unlawful entry ritual to the public gallery will hardly 'encourage more people to come along...'

The section ends with news that the committee review of e-government will recommend a trial of filming and webcasting council meetings. It all sounds a little bitter and appears to have been written between well-gritted teeth and is hardly in the spirit of 'promoting transparency'. I am also amazed, given present circumstances, with the use of the word 'frivolous' in the first sentence.
Having said all that it would be extremely churlish of me not to welcome such a move, as presumably I am the single campaigner referred to. I also hope the recommendations include how members of the public, who wish to make their own recordings, will be welcomed with open arms. Anyway, I suggest they take the pilot forward without delay, or that 'single campaigner' will be back with her camera when meetings kick off again in the Autumn.

Whilst we are anxious not to waste local taxpayer’s money with frivolous or perceived populist ideas, we will shortly receive the findings of the Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee review of E-Government which is recommending that the council trial the filming and webcasting of Council meetings. Such a pilot would enable us to judge whether there is a genuine interest across the County with ordinary members of the public, rather than single campaigners
(Taken from the document)


Update to previous post; County Hall and press control
Press Gazette reports on Carmarthenshire Council's threat to the South Wales Guardian. There is a quote from the General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists; 
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “It is wholly unacceptable for a local authority or any other public body to withdraw advertising from a newspaper as a reaction to what it sees as negative publicity about itself.  The freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy and one of the most important roles of the NUJ is to defend that principle. Attempting to suppress healthy public debate is no business of a local authority and I hope Carmarthenshire County Council will recognise its mistake and give a firm undertaking not to act in this way again.”
(The Wire)
..and in The Guardian
...and Hold The Front Page;
....and just in case anyone was wondering that this was a one off, it happens quite frequently, here's one article from 2009;


Martin Milan said...

I'd like to know what criteria they will use in evaluating whether there is a "genuine interest".

They also appear to have missed a central point here - that the video would serve as a definitive means of confirming what is said on those, erm, rare moments that minutes and recollections diverge.

I take it they will also the interest in the material even when it is hosted on different sites...

It's all a bit "bananna, meet republic" for me...

caebrwyn said...

@Martin Milan
Indeed, the point is missed completely.

Clearly I'm not an 'ordinary member of the public' either. Thought I was.

Anonymous said...

Caebrwyn - you seemed to have missed something here yourself. A little matter of winning a victory in your campaign.

I suspect we will all now be witness to how well we are represented ? Hmmm , cant wait !!

Anonymous said...

Jacqui, credit where credit is due. It takes just one person to make a difference. That person is you!!!! If the Authority is as they say, "strongly committed to equality and value every single member of our community" and they are serious about assisting the disabled to overcome barriers to accessing council services, then why pilot the filming and webcasting of Council meetings? Implementing this service would not only promote local democracy and transparency but the reasonable adjustment would assist people to overcome physical barriers. I also feel that in permitting members of the public to make their own recordings, the Authority would reduce the risk of potential litigation. Take your "Daft Arrest" for example. For all the Authority or police knew, you could have been a member of the community with a cognitive disability who was using assistive technology to overcome memory problems!

caebrwyn said...

Thanks for your comments.

Of course the recommendations have to be accepted yet. As for the cost, initial estimates for a trial period were around £15 - £18,000 which is, I think, reasonable and money well spent.
How the council would gauge 'genuine interest' I'm not sure, all they could actually measure would be the number of hits, not the opinions of the viewers! I would expect the council to make full use of social networking to advertise the meetings. Earlier this year the council took a poll to see how many would watch meetings online, of those who voted, 369 said they would and 43 wouldn't. I would also expect the material to be freely available to other sites - yes, this should also be taken into account when measuring 'interest'.
As Martin Milan says this would provide an invaluable record of what was said and by whom. The accuracy of the Minutes might improve and it would make the meetings, where decisions are made
on how your money is spent, far more accessible to all. The only problems I can envisage are starstruck councillors and more decisions being taken behind closed doors. The latter would need to be monitored.
Filming meetings, either by councils themselves or by the public, or both, is now quite commonplace around the country, believe it or not!