Making council meetings more transparent: legal issues?

As reported by Roy Greenslade and Journalism.co.uk, London’s Southwark Council has agreed to allow audio  recordings of its meetings, following a request by local news site London SE1. Videoing will require prior consent of the mayor.

The move raises two questions. Firstly, do other councils also allow this and what other transparency initiatives are in place? Guardian Local editor Sarah Hartley comments on Greenslade’s post:

Cardiff Council also doing live webcasts (as I’m sure others do as well) but I think what’s interesting about this move, is that the council isn’t doing the filming or streaming – the public will be able to.

Handing over the control like this seems a mature move and one which would assist other local websites, bloggers and mainstream media alike if adopted across the board.
Be interesting to see the impact of this in a few months time.

Secondly, what are the legal issues? Paul Brashaw has set up a page on the Help Me Investigate site [request an invite here, if you’re not a member] to look at just this.

He asks how data protection laws apply (or not) and how the Local Government Act 1972 applies.

Two recent cases are useful as context here:

1) Green councillor Jason Kitcat successfully appealed a local authority decision to suspend him from Brighton & Hove City Council, after he uploaded clips of council meetings onto YouTube (taken from the council’s own public livestream). Kitcat’s tribunal notes can be found here. A report in local paper, the Argus, can be found here.

2) Chris Taggart, of OpenlyLocal and the Count Culture blog, and his  attempt to video a Windsor & Maidenhead council meeting. He argues:

Interestingly, when asked why videoing was not allowed, they claimed ‘Data Protection’, the catch-all excuse for any public body that doesn’t want to publish, or open up, something. Of course, this is nonsense in the context of a public meeting,  and where all those being filmed were public figures who were carrying out a civic responsibility.

If you can help with these questions please leave comments below, or join the HMI group!

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