Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Filming council meetings - new law next week...in England only

Next week, on the 6th August, the new regulations come into force in England giving members of the public the legal right to film, tweet or blog from open council meetings.
Eric Pickles MP welcomes the new laws in Saturday's Independent, here; Local government can no longer act like 'Putin's Russia', says Pickles

Once councillors return to town halls after the summer recess, citizens in England will be able to go along and be free to quietly report on local democracy without fear of arrest or ejection and with the full backing of the law.

The regulations state that members of the public may film, take photographs, or make audio recordings of meetings; provide oral or written commentary on a meeting as it takes place; and use any other methods to enable people not at the meeting to follow proceedings, either as they take place or afterwards.

In Wales, the Welsh Government has only gone as far as to 'encourage' councils to allow such freedoms, leaving it up to individual local authorities to decide for themselves. Webcasting is growing but is council-controlled and coverage of meetings remains extremely limited. However, that is beside the point, the principle of being allowed to film etc must be established, as it will be in England next week.

Carmarthenshire Council has stated that the aim of the ongoing review of governance (required after the two Wales Audit Office reports) is for the council to be the 'most transparent in Wales'. Surely as a means to achieve that end it must formally embrace the spirit of Mr Pickles' new regulations.

Included in my contribution to the ongoing governance review of Carmarthenshire Council I have suggested that the principle must be adopted. The opposition on the council have, over the past couple of years, been consistent with their calls to allow filming but the Labour/Independent ruling administration have consistently rejected it.

Alongside the review of Carmarthenshire Council's decision making processes, the new all-Wales Modular Constitution, currently in draft, is also being considered. It is being looked at by all Welsh Councils and contains some very questionable clauses which I have already mentioned, but there is one brief item which I hope all Welsh Councils will welcome, as, without the Welsh Government taking that extra step to protect your democratic rights, or your own determination, it's all we've got;

From the draft New Modular Constitution Wales

The new regulations in England give citizens in Wales some backing in that, after the 6th August, they will have yet another very arguable point should they turn up at an open meeting and start filming.
...And I should hope that even Carmarthenshire Council has long since ceased to employ those private investigators and 'experts in covert surveillance' it once commissioned to guard it's doors from middle-aged ladies with mobile phones...


Anonymous said...

It's a sad state of affairs that in 2014, we in Carmarthenshire still have a bigoted, illiberal and dogmatic council. Well said Eric Pickles - wish we had someone - anyone - of the same ilk here in perochial Carmarthenshire. Wales will be a laughing stock if they don't catch up and get into this century.
It's also sad that the public still have to continually fight for honesty from this council when their case has been more than proven. Still in the dark ages I'm afraid.

John Brace said...

After an earlier consultation on the draft regulations the oral commentary bit of the regulations was dropped because it was considered to be too potentially disruptive to the meeting.