There’s been mixed reaction to the decision by Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, to tell all councils they should let journalists and hyperlocal sites tweet and record footage at council meetings.
Some councils have been quicker than others to get going on this, and hyperlocal sites and mainstream media alike have been quick to try and take advantage of the new ‘rules.’ Some journalists have been skeptical about what added value video provides at meetings. I suspect for some of these skeptics, it’s more about not knowing how to go about filming than anything else.
As I’ve said before, allowing the filming and live coverage of council meetings does nothing to improve access to the decision-making process, because the vast majority of discussion and debate relating to decisions still takes place behind closed doors.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t film meetings when offered – the question is how do we do it?
One option is filming on smartphones and flip cams at key moments, grabbing 20 or 30 seconds of footage when a key speech is being made or a vote being taken. Displaying video of people voting on a decision does hold them to account.
But filming a full council meeting remins very tricky, especially if you want to see every speaker, get every comment, and accurately reflect the ebb and flow of a meeting. The problem of accustics inside council chambers has been raised more than once too.
So I quite like the idea from Birmingham City Council to stream council meetings online. Nothing new here, you might say – some councils have been streaming for a very long time. Lancashire County Council is one such example.
But the decision to include an embed code so any site which wanted to could take the feed strikes me as worthy of particular mention.
Council meetings are rarely attended by the public, yet the reaction to political stories which appear in print remains high. So a system which allows a news website to embed a meeting into its website and promote its availability can only be good for democracy and public involvement in the process.
Ensuring those websites have a way of keeping the video stored if they wanted to would be the next step, but Birmingham City Council, for now, appears to have come up with a solution which solves many problems.