Recordings in town hall to increase scrutiny

The Council Chambers at Wigan Town Hall
The Council Chambers at Wigan Town Hall

THE right for members of the public and the press to film, tweet and blog from Wigan town hall meetings has been confirmed.

Local government secretary Eric Pickles this week signed a parliamentary order giving permission to digitally report from all local authority public meetings.

History was made last week as a borough full council meet was filmed for the first time albeit for internal use by council officers.

Mr Pickles MP said: “There is now no excuse for any council not to allow these new rights.

“Parliament has changed the law to allow a robust and healthy local democracy.

“This will change the way people see local government, and allow them to view close up the good work that councillors do.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said there were examples across the country of public and press being ejected from meetings for attempting to cover proceedings.

Wigan Council officers and Evening Post staff have already provided live feeds on social networking site Twitter in recent years.

Earlier this year, Coun Gareth Fairhurst was ejected from the council chamber by police officers for refusing a mayoral request for members not to tweet during meetings.

The new regulations give rights to members of the public and press, not elected representatives themselves.

It builds on a Private Members’ Bill from 1960 which allowed for the written reporting of council meetings, introduced by Margaret Thatcher, the DCLG said.

Mr Pickles added: “Local democracy needs local journalists and bloggers to report and scrutinise the work of their council, and increasingly, people read their news via digital media. The new ‘right to report’ goes hand in hand with our work to stop unfair state competition from municipal newspapers – together defending the independent free press.

“Half a century ago, Margaret Thatcher championed a new law to allow the press to make written reports of council meetings. We have updated her analogue law for a digital age.”

Council bosses have said their decision to record meetings is to hold councillors to account for their behaviour. Calls for live streams being made available on the council website have been rejected.