Videoing council meetings revisited: the limits of openness in a transparent council

A couple of months ago, I blogged about the ridiculous situation of a local councillor being hauled up in front of the council’s standards committee for posting a council webcast onto YouTube, and worse, being found against (note: this has since been overturned by the First Tier Tribunal for Local Government Standards, but not without considerable cost for the people of Brighton).

At the time I said we should make the following demand:

Give the public the right to record any council meeting using any device using Flip cams, tape recorders, frankly any darned thing they like as long as it doesn’t disrupt the meeting.

Step forward councillor Liam Maxwell from the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, who as the cabinet member for transparency has a personal mission to make RBWM the most transparent council in the country. I don’t see why you couldn’t do that our council, he said.

So, last night, I headed over to Maidenhead for the scheduled council meeting to test this out, and either provide a shining example for other councils, or show that even the most ‘transparent’ council can’t shed the pomposity and self-importance that characterises many council meetings, and allow proper open access.

The video below, less than two minutes long, is the result, and as you can see, they chose the latter course:

Interestingly, when asked why videoing was not allowed, they claimed ‘Data Protection’, the catch-all excuse for any public body that doesn’t want to publish, or open up, something. Of course, this is nonsense in the context of a public meeting,  and where all those being filmed were public figures who were carrying out a civic responsibility.

There’s also an interesting bit to the end when a councillor answered that they were ‘transparent’ in response to the observation that they were supposed to be open. This is the same old you-can-look-but-don’t touch attitude that has characterised much of government’s interactions with the public (and works so well at excluding people from the process). Perhaps naively, I was a little shocked to hear this from this particular council.

So there you have it. That, I guess, is where the boundaries of transparency lies at Windsor & Maidenhead. Why not test them out at your council, and perhaps we can start a new scoreboard at OpenlyLocal to go with the open data scoreboard,  and the 10:10 council scoreboard

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11 Comments on “Videoing council meetings revisited: the limits of openness in a transparent council”

  1. Philip John says:

    Brilliant. I’ll be going to my next council meeting when I can to do t exactly the same.

  2. Andrew Wallis says:

    As a Councillor for Cornwall Council I proposed a motion that full Council meetings are web-cast. Over 6 months later we have had over 17,000 views.

    At first there was some resistance, but that was over come. Check it out yourself here: http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/

    • countculture says:

      Would you be happy to have those (public) meetings that aren’t webcast videod by a member of the public, and also allow the webcasts to be downloaded under an open licence (and so uploaded to Youtube/Vimeo/etc?

  3. Adrian Short says:

    While this was an interesting experiment, it might be more useful generally to email your council and seek written permission or a statement of their policy on filming at council meetings. If you don’t get permission, it might be easier to start a dialogue on the issue than bringing it up unexpectedly in a meeting.

    Given that people now have their own technology to record and distribute video of meetings and it needn’t cost the council a penny, there is little good reason for not letting them do so.

  4. Steve Amos says:

    Well how about this for a turn up – Southwork is to allow audio ad video recordings of meetings – although prior consent of the Mayor is required – step in the right direction http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2010/dec/06/localgovernment-localgovernment?INTCMP=SRCH

  5. [...] Videoing council meetings revisited: the limits of openness in a transparent council. Open data champion Chris Taggart was ejected from a meeting at Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead for filming a council meeting. He was responding to a comment from Cllr Liam Maxwell who said he “didn’t see why you couldn’t” film council meetings at his council. The LGiU would probably agree that it’s healthy for councils to make their debates as public as possible. We’d agree, however, with the comment on the blog that an e-mail before-hand might have smoothed the road. [...]

  6. [...] Videoing council meetings revisited: the limits of openness in a transparent council « countculture Interestingly, when asked why videoing was not allowed, they claimed ‘Data Protection’, the catch-all excuse for any public body that doesn’t want to publish, or open up, something. Of course, this is nonsense in the context of a public meeting, and where all those being filmed were public figures who were carrying out a civic responsibility. (tags: hyperlocal filming council transparency beatblogging) [...]

  7. Boz says:

    Unfortunately it is local councils in this country who delude themselves that because they are public servants, they can a) do as they please and b) boss everyone around in the most petty & pompous of ways like they were manic control freaks – which, basically they are.

    Most people who become local councillors seem to be pompous self seeking idiots with delusions of grandeur and they are consequently a complete menace to the rest of society.

    It is this bunch of morons up and down the country which have been so brilliant at wasting vast sums of money doing a great deal of entirely useless things to support their delusions that they are ‘important people’ in the local community.

    Frankly they disgust me.

    Most of them are clearly inadequate people of the worst possible type to and quite incompetent and far too dangerous to inflict their crazy and expensive nonsense on the rest of the population.

  8. Philip John says:

    Boz – I think that’s a very unfair sweeping generalisation.

    You only have to look at my progress in Lichfield (see my posts on philipjohn.co.uk) to see that’s not the case.

    In fact, the leader of LDC was excited about the idea and immediately asked if he’d be able to embed the video on his own blog.

  9. [...] on from my abortive attempt late last year to video one of W&M’s council meeting – see the full story here, video embedded below – following on from the simple suggestion I’d made a couple of months [...]

  10. [...] on from our previous posts on the right to attend, report and record local council meetings, the Department for Communities and Local Government has [...]


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