Filming council meetings – Ceredigion set to join the revolution

Ceredigion Council looks set to open up its meetings to film and sound recording, following a discussion by the full Council yesterday.

The issue was discussed in the light of the incident in Carmarthen on June 6th in which someone filming a meeting on their mobile from the public gallery of Carmarthenshire Council was led away in handcuffs and put in a police cell (see story three posts down, with links).

Since then, a Wales-wide campaign to open up council meetings to recording has taken off, recognising that both the Assembly and Westminster governments allow this and the technology that the average person in the street possesses has now moved ahead of council policy and practice.

The clear consensus of the Ceredigion meeting was that the Council should open up, although within the consensus there were different views. Most supported the Council arranging for the filming of meetings and making that available to the public. But many strongly opposed allowing ad hoc recording on mobile phones, believing this could be made to show a distorted picture by editing.

My feeling is that this fails to understand that anything publically available can be copied and edited in any case. There would be little point in the Council bothering to prevent mobile phone filming and the easy availability of a better quality version would make it less likely anyway. The possession by the Council of an original version would act as a safeguard.

There was a slight suspicion that the occasional press reporter might already have resorted to sound recordings themselves (citing accurate reporting of detailed speeches without apparently writing them down).

I made the point that having a recording of meetings can actually help the Council in some circumstances (for example, legal challenges) and would be more likely to lead to accuracy of reporting.

One councillor proposed consulting S4C on the best system to use, something that could perhaps open up a new avenue for them.

At the end of the debate the Chief Executive agreed to put together a report on the options for the electronic recording of meetings for the Council to consider within a couple of months and some kind of provision looks certain to be set up.

Talking to senior Ceredigion officers, it’s clear they would not have reacted in the draconian way that Carmarthenshire Council did in the first place. But it’s interesting how that over-reaction now looks likely to lead to positive change across Wales, with many other Councils and public bodies due to debate the issue in the next few weeks.