Friday, 20 June 2014

Public filming of Council meetings....Chapter 83....

Back in 2012 the cross-party Policy and Resources Scrutiny committee recommended to the Exec Board that the public should be allowed to film council meetings. The ruling administration rejected the idea (naturally) and further discussion was deferred until after the webcast pilot.

The issue came up again last month at the May full council meeting where once again it was shuffled off in the vague direction of the executive board. Calls were also made to extend the webcasting to other meetings, including scrutiny, exec board and planning. Again, further discussion by the exec board was promised.

The minutes of this most recent scrutiny meeting, June 6th, show that some of the members at least recognise the significance of this important principle of democracy and transparency, and are not giving up the fight. The minutes state that the matter was discussed in detail. We can't see the detail of course because these meetings are not filmed.

However, some of the pros and cons were recorded in the minutes. The pros being nil cost; no legislative barriers; the Welsh Government were 'urging' councils to consider it (the should be requiring them to allow it, not 'urging consideration'); and it 'demonstrated openness' and would be 'viewed as democratic'.

The usual 'cons' came up which as predictably as ever related to fear of being shown in a bad light, the use of 'selective' clips and also 'a person's motive' for filming, given that full council meetings were now webcast. I doubt very much if anyone would want to film a meeting if it was being webcast, but they should be able to if they wanted to.

As for 'motive', if the member of the public were wielding a loaded shotgun rather than a smartphone then they'd then have good reason to worry about motive.

In the three years, (yes, three years), that the council have been chewing over this, legislation is now nearing completion in Westminster to protect the democratic rights of citizens in England to record meetings.

The committee suggested that this matter could be included in the (also long awaited and much needed) 'Press and Media Protocol' review but were advised that this would have to be considered at the first meeting of the Focus Group.

As for the webcasting, the committee learned that the exec board 'had agreed [when was this? Ed] to extend the filming of council meetings to some meetings of the Planning Committee, but because of the cost implications it was not possible to film every Planning Committee meeting'.

So, as some Members pointed out, the council would itself be "selective" in deciding which planning meetings to film.

In conclusion, the scrutiny committee made the following recommendations;

"the Executive Board provides a formal response to the Welsh Government’s suggestion that all Council’s should allow the public to film council meetings.


the filming of council meetings by members of the public be fully debated by Elected Members."

So...who knows...look out for chapter 84. Eventually.


The council keeps the archived meetings online for six months, after which time they are only available on request. As something of an afterthought, I thought it would be a good idea, for reference purposes, to pop them on to You Tube, unedited of course, before they all went offline (the 2013 archived meetings have already gone apart from last year's AGM).

So far, a few from 2014 have been uploaded to my You Tube channel (see the 'most recent'), including the Extraordinary meeting held on the 27th February.  For the most recent meetings go to the council archive.


John Brace said...

I thought you might be interested in where the legislation is up to on filming public meetings in England.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments considered it and have written their report. Their report can be read here and DCLG's response here. Both make for interesting reading.

The next stage is the Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee has to meet and debate it for an hour and a half, then the House of Commons and House of Lords pass motions approving the regulations. Who knows how long this will take?DCLG does state in their memo about "urgency" but as far as I can tell a meeting for the next stage hasn't even been scheduled yet!

Personally with the regulations being laid at the start of April, I thought it would have all been settled by now, but shortly after MPs went on holiday for their Whistsun break!

caebrwyn said...

@John Brace

Many thanks for this info and links John. I realise things are slow in England as this passes through the system, but it is better than Wales and the Welsh Government, where nothing has even got off the ground.

John Brace said...

Well DCLG have also come with a draft guide to the regulations.

As you can imagine though, there's been quite a lot of resistance both from local councils and representative bodies of councils in England (the proposals don't just cover district councils but also parish councils, fire authorities, combined authorities, police and crime panels etc)... I therefore think as these have considerable lobbying clout that despite DCLG's claims to urgency that the regulations will get delayed as much as they can.

It's a shame the Welsh Assembly Government haven't agreed to do something similar but that's devolution for you!

Personally (although people don't trust them not to edit the footage) in my view the best solution is for a public body to stream all its public meetings live as they happen itself (with such footage automatically archived). Citizen journalists can't be expected to be at every public meeting and even after the regulations come into effect, due to the small area local councils cover, there's often no commercial reason (although of course very strong public interest reasons) why somebody would film a public meeting. Even the filming of the House of Commons/House of Lords is taxpayer funded and so is Hansard.

Obviously the taxpayer paying citizen journalists would create a conflict of interest, but there definitely needs to be a mechanism of funding such journalism on stories the local papers aren't interested in which there isn't at present.