A welcome window of clarity on the issue of whether bloggers can record public council meetings today: Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has weighed in to say that public meetings should be open to bloggers and that they should “routinely allow online filming of public discussions as part of increasing their transparency”
It’s an issue that I’ve been investigating for a while on Help Me Investigate: while some councils actively stream their own meetings, and others allow members of the public to do the same, some councils explicitly forbid recording, others allow audio but require mayoral permission for video, and a few have conducted ‘investigations’ of citizens for daring to record public proceedings (and councillors), or ejected them from the room (see video above).
Pickles’ guidance – and the accompanying letter sent to all councils – provides useful material to show uncooperative councils.
The letter calls on councils to give “credible community or ‘hyper-local’ bloggers and online broadcasters the same routine access to council meetings as the traditional accredited media have”
It also reassures councils that “giving greater access will not contradict data protection law requirements”. This is a key part, as data protection is often used as an excuse to prevent filming. The Help Me Investigate investigation revealed a worrying ignorance regarding data protection laws by councils even in formal internal reports. Other areas, including privacy, copyright, defamation and “procedural matters” are covered in this blog post rounding up some of the investigation’s findings.
Other material that bloggers may find useful are mentioned in Pickles’ announcement. They include The Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960; The Local Government Act of 1972 and The Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985.
I’m working on producing a cribsheet for bloggers wanting to record their local council’s public meetings. If you want to help, please leave a comment or subscribe to the investigation blog.