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Wanted: film mogul to decide which meetings are hot and which are not

Wanted: film mogul to decide which meetings are hot and which are not

🕔23.Jan 2013

filmsCameras required to live screen Birmingham City Council committees will be installed next week, but the prospect of putting politicians on public display has raised more questions than answers.

A working group set up to investigate the web streaming project has identified 21 separate issues, ranging from who has the power to decide which meetings are screened to concerns about what happens if a councillor or council officer doesn’t want to be filmed.

The group’s report is chiefly concerned with the bureaucracy attached to reserving Council House committee rooms three and four for video streamed meetings and the knock on effects that could follow as other less important meetings are moved elsewhere.

There are also concerns about hidden costs when council staff find themselves having to work extra hours to deal with the logistics of organising filmed committee meetings.

Questions posed include:

  • Which types of meetings will be agreed for streaming, and which will not?
  • Who would decide which meetings are live streamed on a day to day basis?
  • Would all committee and scrutiny inquiry meetings require live streaming?
  • What alternative venues are there for larger meetings such as party group meetings which are held in private and will presumably no longer be a priority booking for committee rooms three and four?
  • Who should manage committee room three and four bookings and how should requests for the room be prioritised?
  • What will be the impact of holding more public meetings in the evenings? Will there be an additional cost in employing Council House security staff, porters, IT support and catering staff later into the evening on a regular basis?
  • What will be the impact of a reduced number of committee rooms, with Room 3&4 set up mostly as one room rather than being divided into two?

The council has awarded a contract, believed to be worth about £150,000, to Brighton-based Public-i for 400 hours of meetings to be streamed over the internet over the course of a year.

The initiative has the firm backing of council leader Sir Albert Bore, who expects Birmingham’s ten devolved district committees to meet in the Council House with their deliberations live streamed.

But the working party, consisting of Labour councillor John Clancy, Tory Robert Alden and Liberal Democrat Jon Hunt, warned the filming of meetings would have “officer time implications”.

Further questions raised by the working group included:

  • Who will be responsible for interacting with the public watching live streaming and online webcasts through Twitter and other social media outlets, and realistically what officer time is required to monitor and respond to comments raised by the public in relation to the webcasts?
  • What officer time is required to index webcasts and where should this responsibility lie within the council?
  • How would councillors be made aware that live streaming is taking place?
  • Who would be responsible for switching off live streaming when a meeting went into private session?
  • Do we need a formal procedure so that at each meeting all those in attendance are informed that they are being recorded?
  • What happens if people do not want their image or voice shown?

The working group’s conclusion suggests that a closer examination is required into the consequences that may flow from the council’s decision to open its proceedings up to a global audience: “It is clear that even when the technicalities of live streaming council meetings are resolved and the appropriate provider is chosen, careful consideration of the processes required is still needed.

“How live streaming council meetings can fit comfortably into our existing and evolving democratic system needs to be established so that appropriate resources are in place to provide an interactive and user friendly system that assists both councillors and members of the public in the democratic process.”

The council has previously stated that committee clerks will be responsible for deciding which meetings are to be screened live. But the realithy probably is that the sensitivities are so great that such a decision will have to be taken at the highest political level.

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