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Bloggers win famous victory as Birmingham city council backs down over restrictions on filming meetings

Bloggers win famous victory as Birmingham city council backs down over restrictions on filming meetings

🕔20.Mar 2014

Journalists, bloggers, the public – indeed, anyone who simply fancies chilling out at a meeting of Birmingham city council – will be able to film and record proceedings with no questions asked after officials backed down over a restrictive code of practice.

A controversial proposal requiring anyone wishing to film or take pictures to obtain permission from the chairman of the meeting a day in advance has been dropped from new rules for media and the public following an outcry from newspapers and bloggers.

Instead, the only restriction will involve notifying the council of filming 24 hours before if the whole or large parts of a meeting are to be recorded and “suitable arrangements for your equipment are necessary”.

A clause in a draft protocol which stated that it should not be necessary for the public to use cameras or recording devices at meetings that are being live-streamed on the internet and that any such recording would not be permitted has been removed.

There is also an acceptance that the use of social media is permitted as long as “disruption or disturbance” is not caused.

The draft protocol, drawn up by the council’s chief legal officer David Tatlow, appeared to contradict legislation being put forward by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, which will remove all barriers to filming and recording council meetings when it becomes law later this year.

Mr Tatlow was told to re-write the protocol by deputy council leader Ian Ward who consulted with journalists and bloggers about the best way forward. Cllr Ward criticised the draft protocol which he said was too restrictive.

The revised protocol will allow for the first time all meetings to be recorded by the public, unless sessions move into private to discuss confidential items under the terms of the Local Government Act. There is a warning, though, that recordings of meetings must not be doctored to misrepresent the proceedings.

The protocol in full:

The council is committed to openness and transparency in its decision making.

Recording is permitted at council meetings that are open to the public. The council understands that some members of the public attending its meetings may not wish to be recorded and will seek to ensure that any such requests are respected.

The rules that the council will apply are:

(a) Anyone wishing to record the whole or large parts of a council meeting must notify the council at least one working day before the start of the meeting if suitable arrangements for your equipment are necessary.

(b) All recordings must be overt (clearly visible to anyone at the meeting) and must not disrupt proceedings.

(c) The chair of the meeting has absolute discretion to stop or suspend recording if, in their opinion, continuing to do so would prejudice proceedings at the meeting or if the person recording is in breach of these rules.

(d) We will ask for recording to stop if the meeting goes into private session where the public is excluded for confidentiality reasons. In such a case, the person filming should leave the room ensuring all recording equipment is switched off.

(e) Any member of the public has the right not to be recorded. Agendas for, and signage at, council meetings should make it clear that recording can take place – anyone not wishing to be recorded must advise the chair at the earliest opportunity.

(f) The recording should not be edited in a way that could lead to misinterpretation or misrepresentation of the proceedings or in a way that ridicules or shows a lack of respect for those in the recording. The Council would expect any recording in breach of these rules to be removed from public view.

(g) The use of social media in council meetings is permitted for members of the public and media so long as this does not cause any disruption or disturbance. The chair’s decision on this point is final. (Councillors are not permitted to use social media during the private part of any council meeting).

(h) If someone refuses to stop recording when requested to do so by the chair of the meeting then the chair will ask the person to leave the meeting. If the person refuses to leave then the chair may adjourn the meeting.

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