Last week, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, used Twitter to warn councils he hasn’t ruled out changing the law to force them to let the public film meetings. Having admonished Keighley Town Council for ejecting residents who were trying to video a meeting, he answered a question from Jacqui Thompson by saying: “It would be a pity if legislation is needed for councils to open their doors to cameras, but I don’t rule it out.”
Here’s a Storify of their exchange.
As far as we know it’s the first time that the Department for Communities and Local Government has mentioned the ‘L’ word in relation to council filming (please tell us if we’re wrong!). Despite the recent tough-sounding guidance for councils that neither the Data Protection Act nor health-and-safety legislation could be used to block bloggers’ cameras, there was no suggestion of enshrining these rights in law. Simon Hill made this point on Twitter, in conversation with Nick Booth (Podnosh) not long ago. (And a big hat tip to both.)
The day before he issued his warning Mr Pickles was at the LGA conference sounding just as tough. In response to criticism of his guidance – in particular from a monitoring officer, whom he said had claimed filming was made impossible by standing orders – Mr Pickles said: “My answer is very straightforward: change them, or ditch the standing orders, or get yourself a better monitoring officer.” Watch the speech here…
As we’ve said before, we think letting citizens film meetings is common sense. But it was our clients who made the most important point: that councils across the country are already committed to his transparency agenda and are filming meetings for themselves, using our Connect Social and Connect products.
Councillor Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire Council said: “Eric-At @buckscc we have been webcasting meetings for 2 years. #lgaconf13”
Birmingham City Council made its own point…
— Bham City Council (@BhamCityCouncil) July 3, 2013
By choosing webcasting these councils are giving citizens the ability to watch meetings live and to interact with them – something that can hugely benefit transparency and isn’t possible by just permitting residents to film. It’s also the case that councils, like Buckinghamshire and Birmingham, and many more, are creating a rich digital record of their democratic activity that can mitigate some of the concerns councils have about video cameras – particularly worries that unofficial filming can be used to take members’ words out of context.
And as we’ve said before (see here and here) webcasting can be part of a suite of tools that helps to change the relationship local government has with its citizens – involving them much more in the way that councils operate (as we have argued with Networked Councillor) – something that more and more councils are looking to do.