Liberal Democrat run Cambridge City Council is very keen on tightly controlling the image of its councillors. Earlier I received the following email:
Dear Mr Taylor
I see that you have posted footage on You Tube from the last council meeting of Cllr Owers, which you have set to music.
Our protocol explicitly asks those filming meetings not to edit footage in a way that misrepresents proceedings or appears to ridicule or show a lack of respect for people being filmed. Therefore can you please remove this clip from You Tube. I would be grateful if you could confirm to me that you have taken it down
Democratic Services Manager
I think it’s really worrying when the council try and exert control over how what they do is reported.
Humour and satire are important ways in which people find out about what their representatives are doing.
George Owers is in some ways a very different councillor to the others. He is highly animated and passionate when he speaks in the council chamber. That he speaks at all sets him apart from many of the Liberal Democrats a number of whom have sat through years of full council meetings without making any substantive contributions. I think it’s reasonable to draw attention to this via whatever means possible. The images of Cllr Owers gesticulating and raising his arm to the ruling Liberal Democrats were in my view some of the most striking from the meeting.
This raises the question of what can be done with footage from council meetings, and what control, if any, the council should exert over their use.
While I have placed all speeches from the debate on regulating shared houses on YouTube I expect few people will have the time or inclination to watch the entire debate. I think that editing is useful, to bring it to a wider audience. I have made Cllr Owers’ full speech on the motion, which shows all the gesticulations in context available too.
Should the council be able to prevent me, or others, using footage from the council meeting, to for example highlight Cllr Adam Pogonowski introducing his “amendment to his amendment amending the amendment” which drew laughs in the chamber, or draw attention to the exchange between Cllr Owers and the Mayor when the Mayor cut him off mid-speech?
Anyone can use websites such as the http://bennyhillifier.com/ to put soundtracks over videos of councillors or other public figures. It turns the rather staid affairs of the West Central area committee discussing and voting on tree planting on Jesus Green and Midsummer Common into this, and makes Cllr Rosenstiel’s performance surprisingly watchable.
Elected representatives in the UK have form in this area. MPs try seek to heavily restrict the use of video from Parliament.
The BBC’s editorial guidelines state:
We can only use parliamentary material in news and factual content or for educational purposes.
We must not use any parliamentary material in light entertainment, fictional or drama content or political satire.
Thanks to a FOI request by Julian Todd some of the rules on TV footage of Parliament have been released which state:
no extracts from Parliamentary proceedings may be used in comedy shows or other light entertainment such as political satire.
Parliament encourages those using its video to sign up to a licence; I’ve regularly posted clips of Parliament on YouTube without agreeing to any such licence. The most popular video, with 35,000 views is Dennis Skinner mumbling his oath to the Queen followed by Julian Huppert saying “I am Spartacus” with over 2,000 views.
The House of Commons’ Administration Select Committee is currently reviewing the “Television: Rules of Coverage”.
Cambridge City Council Protocol
Cambridge City Council’s full council meeting on the 19th of April 2012 decided, following a review, to relax the council’s previously highly restrictive filming rules.
The new protocol was passed with a small amendment requiring adding, at the end of item 1:
The council will supply signs which will be deployed at any meeting all or part of which is to be recorded.
There was some debate on if signs should be put up at all meetings, or only once the chair has been notified filming, photography or other recording is actually taking place. A large number of councillors spoke on the question of if there ought be signs up as a matter of course, some arguing signs would be ignored if they were often present when filming was not taking place.
The decision, following a free vote of the full council was that signs ought be put up at all meetings.
Cllr Boyce made an odd speech saying those filming council meetings had to be careful they didn’t breach the Obscene Publications Act, the Human Rights Act or other legislation. He suggested (wrongly I believe) that permission would be need to be obtained from individual members of the public from those wishing to photograph, film or record them.
Cllr Herbert, leader of the Labour party on Cambridge City Council spoke to say the council should look at what Richmond and Cheshire councils do, and said the council ought put some of its meetings online itsself. Cllr Herbert said councillors were “fair game” and should be “in the public domain”.
A number of Cllrs including Benstead and Saunders agreed with Cllr Herbert that councillors ought be “fair game”, they did though express a view that members of the public ought be able to opt out of being filmed (the protocol allows for this).
Cllr Cantrill reported that he was watching a live planning meeting from Richmond on his laptop while in the Cambridge City Council chamber.
The amended protocol was agreed.
In a typically farcical move the mayor then gave me permission to film despite there being no signs up saying filming was taking place; ignoring and waiving the requirements of the protocol just agreed.
The section of the protocol cited by the democratic services manager states:
The recording should not be edited in a way that could lead to misinterpretation or misrepresentation of the proceedings or infringement of the Council’s values or; in a way that ridicules or shows a lack of respect for those in the recording. The Council would expect any recording in breach of these rules to be removed from public view.
I don’t believe I have breached this, but in any case the sanction provided for is:
A failure to follow these requirements may lead to a request to record being refused at subsequent council meetings.
However the protocol no longer requires a request for permission to film to be made; filming is now permitted by default.
I welcome comments on this.
What, if any restrictions ought there be on what can be done with the material obtained at a council meeting?
What soundtrack would be most appropriate for each committee?