ANYONE wanting to film or blog from council meetings will now be allowed to do so under new laws designed to boost local democracy and the independent free press.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles today signed a Parliamentary order allowing press and public to film and digitally report from all public meetings of local government bodies.
In a statement announcing the new rules, Wirral Council came in for criticism by Mr Pickles after it banned filming of a planning committee on grounds it would “compromise health and safety” – a reason described as “spurious” by the minister.
Joe Blott, Wirral Council’s strategic director for transformation and resources, said: “We are considering the practical implications of the legislation.
"Wirral Council’s meetings are regularly filmed by members of the public, and journalists and residents live tweet and write blogs about proceedings.
“However, we also need to consider the feelings of members of the public who might be involved in proceedings, and who may or may not wish to be filmed.
"We are always keen to look at new ways of opening up the democratic process to residents."
Mr Pickles said: “Half a century ago, Margaret Thatcher championed a new law to allow the press to make written reports of council meetings. We have updated her analogue law for a digital age.
“Local democracy needs local journalists and bloggers to report and scrutinise the work of their council, and increasingly, people read their news via digital media.
“The new ‘right to report’ goes hand in hand with our work to stop unfair state competition from municipal newspapers – together defending the independent free press.”
He added: “There is now no excuse for any council not to allow these new rights. Parliament has changed the law to allow a robust and healthy local democracy.
“This will change the way people see local government, and allow them to view close up the good work that councillors do.”
The move opens councils’ digital doors, covering broadcasters, national press, local press, bloggers and hyper-local journalists and the wider public.
The new law aims to end active resistance among some councils to greater openness.
Councils have even called police to arrest people who tried to report, tweet or film meetings, or claimed spurious “health and safety” or “reputational risks” to digital reporting.
The rules will apply to all public meetings, including town and parish councils and fire and rescue authorities.