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Are you ready for your close-up?

Council prepares for invasion of bloggers and tweeters under new free-to-film law

Written by . Published on September 4th 2014.

Are you ready for your close-up?

KATE BUSH simply asked her fans to put the smartphones away. But Liverpool Town Hall bosses may not have the same luck with a new army of citizen journalists, set to capture their performances for posterity

They are meeting next week to discuss how to deal with a decision, by Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, to give the public the right to film, audio record, photograph, tweet or blog at any council or committee meeting.

Currently, in Liverpool, filming or photography in the council chamber or committee rooms is allowed only if the Lord Mayor, chairman and the councillors present agree. Even then, the facility is limited to members of accredited news organisations.

Now it will become a free-for-all: anybody armed with a mobile phone, camera or tape recorder will be able, legally, to turn up at any meeting and start recording. No permission needed.

Eric PicklesEric PicklesThis is how Mr Pickles’ department views the new age of communication: “We now live in a modern, digital world where the use of modern communication methods such as filming, tweeting and blogging should be embraced for enhancing the openness and transparency of local government bodies. This will ensure we have strong, 21st century, local democracy where local government bodies are genuinely accountable to the local people whom they serve and to the local taxpayers who help fund them.

“These rules help any members of the press and public who want to know about, view or report the work of local government bodies. The “press” is defined in the widest terms – including traditional print media, film crews, hyper-local journalists and bloggers.


“The new national rules have increased your rights to film, audio-record, take photographs, and use social media such as tweeting and blogging to report the proceedings of all such meetings that are open to the public.”

On Monday, Liverpool’s Constitutional Committee will decide how to embrace the new brave world of wall-to-wall coverage of its affairs.

A report to the committee states: “Councils and other local government bodies are now required to allow any member of the public to take photographs, film and audio-record the proceedings, and report on all public meetings subject to the individuals not disrupting the proceedings.”

The report adds that members of the public undertaking such activities must not act in a disruptive manner, which could possibly result in them being excluded from the meeting.

“It is therefore proposed that while no prior permission is required to carry out this activity, it is advisable that any person wishing to film or audio-record a public meeting let committee staff know so that any necessary arrangements can be made for the public for the meeting. This is important because the rules require that the Council provide reasonable facilities only for any member of the public to report on meetings and to assist in the smooth running of the meeting.”

The new council rules will request individuals who wish to record or report to advise relevant committee staff prior to the meeting of their intention to record. They will have to keep their devices on silent  and not use any lighting or flash photography without the permission of the chair of the meeting. They also must not disrupt the conduct of the meeting.

The Laz Word... on selective edits and other flashpoints

Town Hall Liverpool

There were debates, reports and discussions spanning many years prior to allowing cameras into the Houses of Parliaments. Even now still photography in Parliament is not allowed.

The Pickles charter could easily create figurative flash points in council chambers. Although people are requested to give prior notice, there is no legal requirement to do so.

What if a citizen correspondent has an agenda of his or her own? What if they use their audio or film in a selective way? As anyone who has ever featured on a reality TV show will know, the most basic editiong tools allow a comment or remark to be plucked out of original context.

This is what Liverpool’s guidelines says on that point: “The council welcomes responsible reporting of its meetings in order to promote greater transparency and awareness of its decision-making.

“The council requests anyone recording proceedings to provide a balanced recording of the proceedings and not to edit the film or recording in any way which could lead to a misinterpretation of the proceedings or which reflects only a single or particular point of view expressed at the meeting.”

That may well seem like sound guidance, but it is not the job of the council to lay down editorial rules on how material is used or edited.

Nevertheless, officials have their eye on other potential pitfalls.

“Where the chairperson of a relevant meeting considers that any filming, recording activity or use of social media is causing a disruption to the meeting, the person causing the disruption will be requested to take appropriate action so that this is no longer the case,” it says. “Should the disruption continue, which makes orderly business impossible, the chairperson will have the discretion to take whatever action he/she thinks appropriate, for example adjourning the meeting.”

Town Hall chambers, in the meantime, could become battlegrounds if councillors attempt to silence a new army of citizen observers. Watch this (YouTube) space carefully, there could be fireworks soon.

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13 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousSeptember 4th 2014.

Same for parliament?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 4th 2014.

No way!

BranstonSeptember 5th 2014.

"Citizen journalists"? Busybodies with axes to grind more like. This is a cynical swipe at local democracy by Pickles' Centralising and Communities-crushing office.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 5th 2014.

utter tosh. Parliament is recorded and broadcast live in it entirety this is effectively the same. its transparent democracy and a great idea.

John BradleySeptember 5th 2014.

You want to see the list of restraints in place in parliament to make it longer far more orderly and fuller than it is. They will not apply to the council, they should be abolished for Hoc to.

Richard KempSeptember 10th 2014.

I welcome this move. Clearly there will need to be some restraint so that people are not wandering around meetings filming and getting in the way but the council or committee meetings is doing things that affect everybody and the money we spend is not ours but the peoples. They should have access to what we say. However they may be appalled at what they see. There is no effective scrutiny in Liverpool and council meetings are mainly opportunities for political rants from people not even skilled enough to rant properly! I will be coming up with some proposals for the November council to make council meetings more relevant and useful what do you think are the things which would achieve this?

1 Response: Reply To This...
Katie54September 16th 2014.

Yes, I've been shocked and disappointed at the antics and/or apathy of the councillors and/or the mayor at every meeting I've been to (half a dozen in total, to be honest). Why doesn't the council film all committee meetings itself and put them on its website? With the usual exclusions of confidential business, obviously. Other councils do this (Lancashire CC, for instance). Then we would have a proper record, a public service, so we could all see what the people we elect are actually doing - or not doing - whether or not we can get to meetings. Many people can't for all sorts of reasons. It might also reduce the amount of wandering around and getting in the way.

John BraceSeptember 10th 2014.

I went along to film the public meeting of Liverpool City Council's Constitutional Issues Committee as mentioned in the article. Agenda item 3 referred to starts about 32 seconds into the meeting. There was a big problem before hand though as building staff management were relying on an unchanged part of Liverpool City Council's constitution that prevents filming (despite the law having changed on the 6th August). However this was sorted out before the meeting started as I needed access to the room before 3pm to set up a tripod with a video head, point the camera, turn it on etc. The discussion was interesting from my perspective of someone who regularly films meetings of Wirral Council just over the other side of the River Mersey from Liverpool. Battery issue though was a problem due to being instructed to film from a location straight into direct sunlight (which normally I wouldn't do as I would deem it to be unprofessional!). Can I post links on this comment thread to the footage itself or is it not allowed?

4 Responses: Reply To This...
EditorialSeptember 10th 2014.

If nobody swore or took their clothes off then yes (or should that be no?)

John BraceSeptember 21st 2014.

Unfortunately the batteries kept running out every 15 minutes or so, so there are breaks where I had to change batteries, but I got most of the meeting. I can confirm that nobody took their clothes off and despite "robust" political debate, I don't remember any swearing (and let's face it would a politician do that with a camera pointed at them?) The bit on filming starts about 32 seconds in, here's the link www.youtube.com/watch… . The result of the meeting was to make recommendations to the recent Council meeting on the 17th September 2014 (agenda item 6) so that Liverpool City Council had a policy on what constituted disruptive filming, some changes to their existing standing orders to bring them in line with the filming legislation (which came into force on 6th August 2014) and about councillors and officers not spending public meetings glued to their mobile phones which is apparently disrespectful. Another change was that they wanted to know what the public were to say in advance and if they didn't stick (roughly) to a prepared statement or points they'd submitted in advance then the Lord Mayor (or Chair) would not allow them to stray into different topics. I think one of the comments from councillors at that meeting I filmed was that they didn't want Council meetings ending at midnight because of contributions from the public!

John BraceSeptember 21st 2014.

Oh and apologies for the poor sound quality in parts of the video of that meeting. It seems some councillors at that meeting are not aware of how to properly use a microphone. The high ceiling in that room and "alcove" we were put in didn't help either didn't help with that. It's possible there was interference from either electrical equipment or mobile phones too. I have however (since that meeting) started using a different video compression codec which leads to better quality sound.

AnonymousOctober 2nd 2014.

What kind of sad arsed, too-much-time-on-his-hands loser goes round filming council meetings and sending messages about it? Waste of a life!

AnonymousSeptember 11th 2014.

great idea...get filming all you tweeters

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