I worry that local government and transparency interest me so much. There are better things for a man of my age to be interested in, surely. But this example of how not to do it from Wales and now on YouTube intrigued me. (Which I found via Richard Wilson’s blog)
To give a short version:
- Member of the public starts filming council meeting
- Chairman asks her to stop, she refuses
- Chairman adjourns meeting and calls the police, she is arrested.
There is clearly history between the council and the campaigner, and I don’t think I’m being unfair in saying that she probably could have handled it better (ultimately, you have to respect the chairman’s decision: it’s the way meetings work). But it’s so contrary to common sense to stop someone unobtrusively, but not secretly, recording a public meeting of democratically elected members.
It’s particularly odd coming only a few months after well-publicised calls from the Secretary of State for councils to allow such recordings to be made and to give bloggers the same level of access as traditional journalists.
As far as I’m aware no-one has bothered recording a Wandsworth council meeting, but I hope we handle it a lot better if they do.
Correction (of sorts): Dafydd Vaughan has pointed out that Eric Pickles has no jurisdiction in Wales, as it’s a devolved matter. It’s perhaps a reflection of a London-centric view that I hadn’t thought about that when originally writing. However, it’s also true that Pickles doesn’t have jurisdiction over English councils on this matter; and I think the moral pressure his statements represented are as applicable in Wales as they are in England.
You don’t have to respect the chairman’s decision. You have to respect democracy. If the chairman is shown as preventing the normal work of democracy, including encouraging secrecy and undemocratic process, he/she has to be prevented to act.
I know another example where the chairman wanted to prevent a member of the public (but also campaigning with the opposition – successfully at the end – to become a councillor) to attend and record a Council meeting. To the full shame of the head of this Council, the police supported the individual to allow him to attend the meeting in the town hall.
At the end there might be a way of challenging the decision, but also the way the police acted. On the other hand, surely a waste of time and money!
PS: for the record I asked (maybe I shouldn’t have 😉 2 years ago if I was able to record a Planning Committee meeting. The answer was…. NO! I am curious to know your thought on that…
http://www.youve-been-cromwelled.org (strong language)
See how London Borough of Bexley subvert democracy and transparency every step of the way. Bloggers issued with Prevention of Harassment letters etc.