Headlines: February 24th, 2011

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has called on councils to open up their public meetings to local citizen journalists and routinely allow online filming of public discussions as part of increasing their transparency.
Greater openness can be achieved by lifting access restrictions and adopting a modern day approach so that credible community or ‘hyper-local’ bloggers and online broadcasters get the same routine access to council meetings as the traditional accredited media have.

The issue has been raised because at least one council allows accredited professional journalists to report from meetings using Twitter. The decision means local bloggers, the public and even councillors are not permitted to tweet because they are not considered members of the press.

Eric Pickles said: “Fifty years ago, Margaret Thatcher changed the law to make councils open their meetings to the press and public. This principle of openness needs to be updated for the 21st Century. More and more local news comes from bloggers or citizen journalists telling us what is happening at their local council.”
He added: “Many councils are internet-savvy and stream meetings online, but some don’t seem to have caught up with the times and are refusing to let bloggers or hyper-local news sites in. With local authorities in the process of setting next year’s budget this is more important than ever.”

Chris Taggart, of www.OpenlyLocal.com, which has long championed the need to open council business up to public scrutiny, said: “In a world where hi-definition video cameras are under £100 and hyperlocal bloggers are doing some of the best council reporting in the country, it is crazy that councils are prohibiting members of the public from videoing, tweeting and live-blogging their meetings. Councils need to genuinely engage their communities and giving wider access to their meetings through these technologies is one way they can do this.”