Headlines: June 18th, 2013

New guidelines from Communities and Local Government will end restrictions some councils impose on meetings so that the public will now be able to film proceedings.

The new how-to guide gives practical information for the public to attend meetings of a council’s executive and how to obtain council documents. The government has changed the law to allow citizens to report, blog, tweet and film council meetings in England. It also outlines the assorted rights that taxpayers’ have to access council papers and documents.

The rules have been changed because  many councils across the country are still refusing to allow people to film public council meetings. In some episodes of TV programme Grand Designs, viewers were perplexed at cameras being stopped from filming meetings of the planning committee considering the self-build projects.

The new guidance explicitly states that councillors and council officers can be filmed at council meetings, and corrects misconceptions that the Data Protection Act somehow prohibits this.

The Health and Safety Executive has also shot down the suggestion that ‘health and safety ‘regulations’ also bar filming, which Wirral Council used to justify a filming ban last year.

Community Secretary Eric Pickles said: “I want to stand up for the rights of journalists and taxpayers to scrutinise and challenge decisions of the state. Data protection rules or health and safety should not be used to suppress reporting or a healthy dose of criticism.

Modern technology has created a new cadre of bloggers and hyper-local journalists, and councils should open their digital doors and not cling to analogue interpretations of council rules.

Councillors shouldn’t be shy about the public seeing the good work they do in championing local communities and local