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New guidance for councils in England: Citizens are welcome to film meetings

By June 14, 2013 3 Comments

Today sees the publication of new guidance from the Department for Communities and Local Government on filming council meetings in England, saying councils need to welcome citizens who want to film and record public meetings. You can read about it from Nick Booth and from Sarah Hartley of Talk About Local. Both have done a great job in summarising its implications.

This is news of a sort, but really it clarifies what we already knew. The government has been saying for some time that councils should be open to filming from members of the public. Now, though, it’s in black and white with an assurance that there isn’t a defence to prohibiting filming from either the Data Protection Act or health and safety regulations.

We’ve said a number of times that giving people the freedom to film and record meetings is a good thing – and is really just common sense. If someone can go into a council meeting and write down what’s being said (as reporters and bloggers are and should be completely welcome to do) it’s only reasonable that people can use audio and video recording to gain a more accurate impression of the meeting.

In our work to promote greater digital transparency with webcasting, we often hear concern from officers and councillors that words recorded in meetings might be taken out of context and thereby used to create an inaccurate impression of what has happened. It’s a reasonable concern, but one that of course exists irrespective of filming, since people can already form their own views on a meeting by attending or watching it – and relay quotes with social or more traditional media.

We’d argue that the way to deal with this is to keep a full digital record of the whole meeting and to ensure this is publicly available and linkable to (if you’ll forgive that rather cackhanded way of putting it). By doing so you’re creating a record that can be referred to and checked by anyone who is attempting to form an opinion about what happened.

Catherine has written more about this before – and I’d recommend, if you’re interested, reading her post, as it nicely summarises our position (the title pretty much sums it up: Public meetings should be…well….public). But I’m sure there will be a chance to talk about this, too, at the upcoming Public-i usergroup, which is now less than a week away.

At that event we’ll also be talking about the Networked Councillor report, and since that is very much about the way that councils and councillors make their decision-making and deliberation more transparent in a digital age, I’m guessing that these guidelines might get mentioned along the way.

More about the usergroup

We’ve been busy planning the day and it’s worth just adding a few details to what I’ve already said about what’s happening. We’ve got a really good plan together for the morning session, which I can now share properly with you. Just to recap it’s on Friday the 21st of June at the Hallam Conference Centre in London. Read here for the details.

The morning will be all about webcasting, with a run-through of new and existing features of the Connect Social product, as well as a summary of some of the really interesting things we’ve been up to. But for the first time we’ll also be sharing a couple of specific case studies with the usergroup.

Damian Beaumont from Cheshire West and Chester will be talking about how they have introduced new meeting types to gain more feedback from the public, while we’ll also hear about one of our newest clients, Birmingham City Council, and how they are using Twitter and CoveritLive to boost audience figures.

As I’ve already said, the afternoon sees us discussing Networked Councillor – and if that’s all new to you please check out the blog.

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