Why are Wirral councillors trying to kill off press freedom by a new public meetings filming ban?
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Video of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee from 3rd March 2015, the item on filming starts 43 seconds into the meeting
Last year I wrote a piece on this blog headlined The day democracy and freedom of the press died at Wirral Council: 28th October 2014 and earlier this week published my email to councillors on the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee detailing my concerns about a proposed policy banning filming at public meetings of Wirral Council.
Last night councillors (as you can see from the video above) on Wirral Council’s Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee agreed to bash the final nail in the coffin of press freedom to report on public meetings of Wirral Council and recommended to all councillors at the next Council meeting on the 16th of March that press freedom remain dead and buried (that is they recommended a draft policy on the reporting of all public meetings of Wirral Council).
Around the time a new law (the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014) came into force last August, which prevented local councils stopping filming of their meetings, Eric Pickles was quoted as saying "How can we criticise Putin’s Russia for suppressing freedom of the press when, up and down the land, police are threatening to arrest people for reporting a council meeting with digital media?"
Labour councillors on the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee last night repeatedly prevented any discussion by opposition councillors on the controversial subjects of the closure of Lyndale School and library opening hours. If councillors from the ruling group can’t respect and listen to viewpoints they may not agree with, how can democracy actually function at all on Wirral Council?
Despite concerns I expressed at the meeting itself about the lack of consultation and concerns over whether the draft policy breached both section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 (in respect of Article 10 on freedom of expression) and Regulation 4 of the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014, councillors agreed to recommend it to the next Council meeting.
The draft policy (if approved by Council) will mean that at the start of the meeting the Chair will ask anyone if they have any objections to the meeting being filmed. If someone does object the Chair will stop the meeting being filmed. However any legal powers Chairs may have had to stop filming of public meetings were repealed by the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 last year.
The policy goes much further and states a ban on editing filming, photography or recording of a meeting that could cause “reputational harm”.
Wirral Council seem to not recognise the importance of the independence of the press and councillors on the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee don’t seem to think there is anything wrong with this policy.
If you’re from the Wirral and would like to make your views known to your local councillors ahead of the Council meeting on the 16th March, their contact details are on this page. As emails to councillors are no routinely filtered, I would suggest phoning or writing by mail.
If you’re have a WordPress blog, please feel free to reblog this post. If you’d like to write about the draft policy it is on Wirral Council’s website and the other papers and reports for the meeting can be found on Wirral Council’s website here. The code to embed the Youtube video of the meeting can be found by visiting Youtube and clicking on share then embed.
You can also give your opinion whether you think this policy is a good idea or not in the poll below:
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