I presented her with my credentials – a copy of a current UK Press Card issued by the National Union of Journalist. These credentials meet the requirements of Thanet Council’s new policy covering the filming of meetings which was agreed by the Council on 3 October (1)Despite having the proper credentials Councillor Gideon ruled that I could not film the meeting. She also ruled that I be not allowed to speak at the meeting.
I was extremely surprised by Councillor Gideon’s response. Within the last week Thanet Conservative MP Laura Sandys had urged the Council to permit filming of meetings by the public. Just one day before the meeting of the Scrutiny TransEuropa Task and Finish Group, the Thanet Council Conservative Group issued a press release which stated that they “agree to the live streaming and public filming of council meetings”.In the 24 hours which had elapsed since this statement was issued the Conservative Group had either changed its mind about filming of Council meetings, or Councillor Gideon had forgotten what her Party policy was on this matter.
Having been refused permission to film even though I met the Council’s filming criteria I decided to film the meeting secretly. Unfortunately I was discovered and was asked to leave the meeting. I politely refused to do so as my rights as a properly accredited person under the terms of Thanet Council’s Constitution had been abused by Councillor Gideon.By refusing to leave the meeting I was following the advice I had been given by Brandon Lewis MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Communities and Local Government who in a letter to me said that “you should openly challenge your council to welcome those who want to bring local news stories to a wider audience through, for example, filming and taking photographs”.
I am at a loss to understand why, whilst hundreds of Councils across the country are endorsing “digital democracy and welcoming the public filming their meetings, Thanet Council continues to adopt an old-fashioned, medieval approach.Dartford District Council recently told me that it “welcomes the filming and relay of proceedings” which provides “huge benefits in better, and deeper, engagement between this local authority and the community it serves”.
Why can’t Thanet Council adopt such a positive and welcoming approach? Why do they have to insist on secrecy? What do they have to hide?Notes
1. Part 5 of Thanet Council’s Constitution, Filming of Council Meetings sates that
Requests to film Council Committee meetings will only be granted to accredited
media representatives. The definition of an accredited media organisation is as follows:
“a media organisation or individual that holds a National Press Card and is registered
with the Press Complaints Commission (or its successor) or a similar regulated body
with a code of conduct and associated complaints process through which the Council
could take recourse”.
2. Filming at Council meeting the facts.
· The Government has issued advice to all Councils advising them to allow the public to film meetings
· The law will be changed in 2015 to force those Council’s not already doing so, to allow the public to film Council meetings.
· Thanet and Swale Councils are the only 2 Councils (out of 13) in Kent not to allow the public to film meetings
· The national leadership of the Conservative, Lib-Dem and Labour all support the filming of Council meetings but the leadership of the Thanet Conservative and Labour Parties
· Anti-government corruption watchdog Transparency International endorsed the filming of Council meetings in its latest report on corruption in UK local government.
· The Tax Payers Alliance supports the filming of Council meetings
· 2 members of the public have been thrown out of Thanet Council meetings in the past year and I have also be thrown out on one occasion
· I am facing a costly investigation (estimated £6,000) for taking photographs of 2 councillors who were about to have a fight in contravention of old fashioned anti-filming rules
Letter from Brandon Lewis MP
THANET DISTRICT COUNCIL - FILMING AT MEETING
Thank you for your email of 4 October to the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP about filming the meetings of your Council. Your letter has been forwarded to me and I am replying as it falls within my ministerial responsibilities .
I note your concerns about your Council's decision not to allow local people to film and photograph its meetings, but as I explained in my letter to you in April this year , I cannot comment on this matter as the Government cannot intervene in the decisions councils take because councils are directly accountable to their local people.
Nonetheless, I would like to remark that our message is transparency and openness should be the underlying principle behind everything councils do, and members should not shy away from letting their local people see how they are arriving at their decisions. Therefore preventing local people, particularly citizen journalists, from filming or taking photographs at council public meetings can only weaken local people's confidence in local democracy and their elected representatives .
The guidance, recently issued, highlights that councils are required by law to provide reasonable facilities for any member of the public to report on meetings. It also recommends that those wishing to film or take photographs should inform their councils before the start of the council meeting.
Councils should be at the forefront of promoting transparency and openness and this means that you should openly challenge your council to welcome those who want to bring local news stories to a wider audience through, for example, filming and taking photographs. Councils who resist this transparency and openness should expect open criticism from us and the public.