Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Transparency Barnet council style


Barnet council leader Lynne Hillan has budged. She has. I'm sure she'd deny it, but I will say it. After telling the Times series on Monday that there'd be no filming, blogging or tweeting in the public gallery while she is Leader (are you sure you want to bring that up, Lynne?), this morning she had made some attempt to appear reasonable. She told the Times that, although residents still would not be allowed to film the council meeting:
“I think the world has moved on since we last debated this. Frankly we all expect to be able to find the whole world on YouTube now.

"My own view is that the public would be best served by us live streaming council over the web, but this is a matter for the whole of council to debate. I am happy to have that debate at full council in the near future.”
Well, that's it then, she's budged, and we'll hold her to it. She takes some shifting, does Lynne Hillan, but a good fortnight of harrying, and judicious use of the pronouncements in favour of transparency from her own government, plus one manic afternoon on phone and email to Bindmans, human rights lawyers (I have to thank them a lot for their work) have resulted in this grudging half-promise to bring Barnet into the 21st century.

Unlike some more frugally-minded bloggers, I think that the council should spend some money on getting the job done properly and having professional filming, as Haringey does, for example. And then, in addition to that, allowing blogging, filming and tweeting in the public gallery.

My own experience of filming in the public gallery was that it is pretty tedious, but then my equipment was a bit clapped out (and, to be frank, so was I). But AL managed to get some nice clips. See them here.

The interest with these clips is less the content - it's a council meeting, fer chrissakes! - than the fact that AL got these bits of film at all. Because AL and me, in my own feeble way, and Mrs A, all had to do our filming with the threat of being booted out hanging over us.

In the event, we were not booted out (I came close, for a bout of sustained heckling, but I won't bore you with the details of that now). Whatever the "legality" (huh!) of Barnet council's filming ban, at least among some parts of the council apparatus - some of the Tory group, some of the council officers: it's not clear who - there isn't the appetite to enforce it.

That's great news. It means the ban is a dead letter.

P.S. Oh, yeah, the g*ts passed their £54.4 million cuts and privatisation budget, but let's celebrate our tiny victories. On those, we build.

3 comments:

Daniel Hope said...

Look, on the face of it the Council spending £100,000s on web streaming is a move forward but upon scrutiny I think the case falls apart.

Whilst my objection to the Council web streaming the meetings is based on waste of public funds for something the Big Society could provide for free, it is more deep rooted.

Firstly, Hillan is proposing this as she wants to maintain complete control (and no doubt intellectual property rights) to all of the footage. This will massively stifle press freedom (especially when joined with other points)

Secondly, where will the cameras point? What will be edited out? When will the borough solicitor pull the plug?

Thirdly, if the Council puts in some rudimentary, unreliable, low resolution and choppy service they will then move to ban (as parliament does) others filming or recording. This is the real move behind this and an objection that I cannot see being overcome.

So what will be the outcome? Will we have Eric Pickles full coverage of meetings? No. We will have Egypt or Libya style state broadcast channel rather than the flourishing freedom of the press that this government wants.

As @grantshapps tweeted last night - what does Barnet Council have to hide?

baarnett said...

I agree with DH - let us just argue for private enterprise videoing from the public gallery.

People can, for instance, video their own planning applications (including on-site visits), or licensing applications, from now on.

There's a Cabinet Resources Committee meeting tonight, here, where people can test out the current retreat by the regime.

Mrs Angry said...

I agree with you, Dan -er, how did that happen? The argument is about freedom of choice. Even if Barnet installed their own system, which they should have done long ago, this is a separate issue to the rights of citizens to do their own reporting.