By Camilla Capasso
Local authorities must not bar journalists from council meetings for filming, blogging or tweeting about the proceedings a new guide issued by government has insisted. The move comes after a number of councils have been criticised for banning journalists who tried to use social media to report from such meetings.
Newspaper Society spokesman, Paul Sinker, told London Journalism Centre that the changing face of local news made the clarification of the rules essential.
“Local papers are in the process of evolving to become truly multimedia businesses and local news is now published through a wide variety of channels including live blogs, video, via smartphones and tablets, as well the printed local newspaper,” he said. “Local papers will inevitably seek to use these techniques when reporting on council meetings and it is quite right that they should be allowed to do so un-hindered.”
Despite an existing law that allows filming, many councils still do not allow people to film public meetings. In2011, ablogger was arrested after filming a council meeting in Carmarthenshire and later ordered to pay £25,000 in damages.
The guide also corrects the mistaken idea that filming public meetings is prohibited under the Data Protection Act and it gives citizens practical information about the meetings – how and when they can attend council meetings and what documents they can request, for instance.
According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, the new rules will make councils more transparent and reliable.
Sinker believes social media has become an important tool which helps local journalists scrutinise and challenge the decisions of the state.
“Through their reporting, whether in print, online or mobile, local papers perform a fundamental role in ensuring that the public are able to witness and fully scrutinise the workings of local public bodies,” he said.