Leeds university lecturers call on councillors to allow recording of public meetings

2011310_171925Journalism lecturers from Leeds’ three universities are calling on Leeds City Council to allow anyone to record its public meetings.

In a joint letter, the tutors from Leeds Trinity, Leeds Metropolitan and the University of Leeds tell councillors that “it can only be to the benefit of Members (councillors) to ensure that the process of decision making is transparent”.

“To be fully informed residents need to know not only the decisions reached, but also the discussion that leads to these conclusions,” they say. “More than ever Members bear heavy responsibility for representing residents, businesses and institutions, and we believe they should be both seen and heard making those representations.”

The letter coincides with the publication of a draft protocol on the issue by the council, which recommends that there be NO videoing allowed at the council’s public meetings, and limits the kind of public meetings where audio recordings would be allowed.

The protocol is being discussed at a meeting of the council’s General Purposes Committee next Monday (28th October).

“We would … urge that Members should allow recording of audio and video by any interested party in all circumstances in which the press and public currently have a right to attend meetings”, the letter says, and goes on to list some basic safeguards around how the recorded material could be captured, presented and edited.

No-one asked for views

Leeds citizen - turned down

Some requests turned down, others granted

The council protocol is effectively Leeds’ response to guidance issued this year by local government secretary Eric Pickles, which says councils should allow the recording and filming of public meetings.

With no policy in place, requests to record have been handled up to now by council committees on an ad hoc basis. Some requests to make audio recordings have been turned down, others granted.

In their joint letter, the journalism lecturers make a specific plea for allowing video recordings to be made, urging councillors to “reflect on their own expectations, especially of web-based news reports”.

From the papers prepared for next week’s council meeting it appears that no-one who might be interested in doing the recording – from the local media, independent news publishers, the public or the local universities – has been asked for their view.

There’s consultation for you.

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6 Responses to Leeds university lecturers call on councillors to allow recording of public meetings

  1. Another Leeds Citizen says:

    Of course, this implies that committess make decisions. Most don’t, it’s the leadership which makes decisions and then the whips make sure the committee makes the decision they want. Except for regulatory meetings and particularly in meetings of full Council, most people who speak do so either at the request/instruction of the whips or out of self-agrandisement and to have it on the record anyway, so I struggle to see their objection.

    Regulatory meetings are different matter. They are meetings where decisions that actually made which may get legally challenged (such as judicial review) after the event. This means councillors and other committee members need to be able speak freely and openly without fear of their words being taken out of context or manipulated.

    Maybe the best way would be for the Council to record audio in all official meetings, so it controls the master copy while enabling transparency and proper scrutiny.

    • I agree with the first part, but I’m confused about the distinction over regulatory meetings. Councillors’ words can be taken out of context or manipulated now by a journalist or member of the public using a ‘recording’ they’ve made using shorthand.

      And, as you say, if the council is concerned about this, why aren’t they doing their own recording anyway?

      It would be the easiest thing in the world for them to record the audio of all official meetings. They have old-school, hard-wired facilities in their main meeting rooms and could rig something up cheaply in the only other rooms they use. In fact, we could organise a whip-round and buy the council note-taker a tablet like the one I use. That the council isn’t contemplating anything along these lines speaks volumes about where they are coming from and which century they are living in.

      As things stand, no true record exists of the words that get spoken at these regulatory meetings. That’s weird, isn’t it?

      • Another Leeds Citizen says:

        I don’t know, I guess written reports have some sense of deniability!

        Leeds City Council has never been the most forward thinking of authorities on a lot of these issues. Plenty are willing to use meetings to grandstand, rather too few willing to be held to account for what they actually say.

  2. Stuart Bruce says:

    The arguments put forward by the council against recording are weak in the extreme. There is no need for video to cause any disruption to other meeting attendees whatsoever and if people recoding do obstruct others then it is a simple matter to ask them to be more considerate. It is absolutely no different to people attending and causing any other type of disruption.

    There are already procedures for dealing with confidential below the line items, so further restrictions aren’t necessary.

    As for decisions being taken out of context by editing the solution is simple. The council, or indeed individual councillors or officers, can record it themselves and make their full recording public.

    Leeds shouldn’t be simply following central government guidance, but taking its place as the second largest local authority and leading the way.

  3. Pingback: Leeds today: bikes, BOOM, bus, brassicas, burgers, baritones, boogeymen and broadcast. | Beyond Guardian Leeds

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