Council chiefs said with the use of smaller video cameras and the rise of
social media, it was important that the public could use modern communication
methods to access and record meetings.
Under the new guidelines, no restrictions will be placed on the public’s use of Twitter, Facebook, blogs or photography during a council meeting, provided their actions do not affect the conduct of the meeting itself.
It follows reports that some bloggers were stopped from using Twitter or filming during public meetings at local authorities in London and Manchester.
In February, Local Government Minister Bob Neill MP sent a letter to all council leaders saying that “citizen” journalists and bloggers should have the same access to council meetings as mainstream media to scrutinise the work of local government, particularly when important budget decisions were being made.
A report to Westminster’s general purposes committee, which met last night, states: “Transparency and openness should be the underlying principle behind everything councils do and in this digital age it is right that we modernise our approach to public access, recognising the contribution to transparency and democratic debate that social media and similar tools can make.”
The council already allows filming of public meetings if the chairman agrees, but under the new rules, the chairman will still have the final approval but the assumption will be that permission to film will be granted.
The council said that while that the quasi-judicial role of planning and licensing meetings did not always make them suitable for filming, it would generally allow filming provided that the detailed arrangements were agreed beforehand by the committee chairman.
Councillor Melvyn Caplan, Westminster’s head of customer services and transformation who is also chairman of the general purposes committee, said: “We are committed to being open and transparent to demonstrate to our residents how we spend their hard earned money on their local services.
“While we have previously allowed filming at our council meetings with the chairman’s discretion, with the huge rise in social media and new modern recording equipment it’s right that we now update these rules to also incorporate live blogging, Twitter and Facebook.
“By sharing our knowledge and information with our citizens, we are aiming to improve the way in which we serve our local communities.”