Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Haringey is to Egypt as Barnet is to Iran

In the last few weeks we have, if we've any humanity, been transfixed by events in Egypt. We were even able to watch the protests and the heroic struggles by democracy campaigners to hold Tahrir Square on television. No doubt, Egypt was (still is?) a police state, but it is a relatively open society.

The state-owned Egyptian Lying Broadcasting Corporation covered the events - dishonestly, yes, but you could read what was happening by what they omitted, eg, close-up scenes of the crowds in Tahrir Square after Mubarak told them on 10 February that he wasn't going to go.

And these broadcasts were supplemented with almost continuous coverage by independent broadcasters such as Al Jazeera (independent of the Egyptian state if not of the Qatari!).

Contrast this to the uprisings in Iran in 2009 - and, possibly, today. The little that we could see of comparable sized demonstrations of at least a million on the streets of Iran (from a population of comparable size to Egypt's) squeaked out through tweets on Twitter and mobile phone footage smuggled onto YouTube.

Yes, Egypt was (still is?) a police state, but the repression in Iran is that much more complete and suffocating.

What has this to do with Haringey and Barnet? Of course, both are paradises for anyone who wants to do anything remotely political compared to Egypt and Iran. But, relative to each other, Haringey is to Egypt as Barnet is to Iran.

In Haringey, council meetings, all of them, as far as I can tell, are filmed and painstakingly indexed, so Haringey residents can see who has spoken, how long they spoke for, etc! I haven't watched the broadcasts for long - they're council meetings, for heaven's sake! - but I would bet that the general standard of behaviour of councillors in Haringey is much higher than that of councillors in Barnet.

You can see the range of what is available to Haringey residents here.

Contrast that to Barnet, where a hapless member of the public spectating the Cabinet meeting on Monday 14 February, mistakenly believing that he was living in the 21st century, attempted to make a film of the meeting on his phone. He was threatened with expulsion from the meeting.

Residents who wanted to share with interested parties outside what they were seeing with their own eyes, were reduced to discreetly Twittering. As we are often reminded in relation to the recent Iranian uprising, Twitter is a great new tool for getting around the barriers put in the way of democracy by repressive regimes.

No less true in Barnet than in Tehran.

A while back David Miller, on his "Not the Barnet Times" blog, reviewed the most-up-to-date knowledge on why Barnet won't allow broadcasting of meetings - or, even, private broadcasting in the form of residents making their own videos.

I suspect the main reason is that Barnet's Conservative regime would not long outlast any more scrutiny.

Hey, hey, ho, ho, Lynne Hillan has to go!


Don't Call Me Dave said...

As far as I can tell, there is no legal prohibition against the recording of public meetings. The council cannot simply say “You can’t do it” - they need to pass a specific resolution to that effect, and there is no evidence that Barnet has ever done this.

I previously asked the council what the penalty would be if I was to record a public meeting and, of course, there is no legal action they could take against me. All they could do is evict me from the meeting in question or to stop the meeting itself. But no offence would have been committed. The fact that the council puts up a sign, does not give it legal effect.

Perhaps everyone should turn up to the next meeting with video recorders at hand. Will they throw everyone out? If the council is forced to abandon every meeting, the Borough would soon become ungovernable. The irony is that the likes of Brian Coleman are media whores - you would have thought he would welcome every opportunity to broadcast his message of love, peace, hope and understanding.

Citizen Barnet said...

DMCD, you have just given us our next stunt.

Mrs Angry said...

I think it is clear from this week's performance that civil disobedience is the way forward. The councillors must be reminded that they are our servants, and that they are accountable to us. There is enormous public interest in what is happening, and enormous anger: the Tories know it, and they are worried. They should be.

baarnett said...

Barnet quotes the 1960 Act which first allows the riff-raff (like Barnet residents) and the press into council meetings, by law.

They consider that "recordings" (almost wax cylinders in those days) are banned, as their discretion.

The 1960 phrases were enshrined in Local Government Acts, particularly the 1972 one, which people still quote, saying "As amended" afterwards.

The proceedings must be transmitted by audio loop for the hard of hearing, under the DDA, and it should be possible to pick up the signal outside the building. There is a device to do so, costing about £50, I think, on the web.