Councillors back moves to tweet and film at meetings

PUBLISHED: 12:00 02 September 2013

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A CHALLENGE to allow members of the press and public to film and tweet from planning meetings has been welcomed by Weston and North Somerset councillors.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles will publish new guidance which would pave the way for planning appeal hearings to be filmed, tweeted and reported.

This comes after Mr Pickles issued a warning that freedom of speech and independent journalism were under attack in local government, prompting him to ask councils to open up their planning committees and other meetings.

Within the Government’s review of planning practice this will mean members of the press and public, including bloggers, will be able to set up a camera in the council chambers and send tweets from the meetings.

District and Weston Town councillor Clare Kingsbury-Bell said she was in favour of opening up the democratic process to the public.

She said: “In this day and age we could open council meetings, and any kind of meetings that are public, to the digital age if people are interested.

“It’s an old fashioned opinion to say if they are that interested they should come to the meeting.

“People are used to accessing information in different forms, such as seeing a link to a story on Twitter or a headline on a website or Facebook.

“If there is a video then there is no difference to you being sat at the meeting or just watching it from home, and a video will be verbatim.”

The Planning Inspectorate will make clear the rights for members of the press and public in the hope of opening up the rarely-seen side of the planning process.

Deputy council leader Elfan Ap Rees said: “Personally I have no problem with meetings being filmed, provided it is fair to all sides and doesn’t include commercially sensitive information.

“I think the right way to do it though is through a camera in the chamber so people can follow the whole debate and not just an edited piece that might be biased.

“Obviously some people might be tempted to play to the camera but people play to the audience now anyway and it would certainly improve transparency and hopefully interest.

“Blogging could be a distraction at meetings and being off the cuff, so to speak, it could give a misleading impression to readers of what is actually happening.

“I have no problem with fair and full coverage but I’m not sure blogging will do that.”

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