On the 15th of November 2010 I attended Cambridge City Council’s Civic Affairs Committee. I used the public speaking slot to let councillors know about my experiences recording council meetings and to ask questions about the fact I have now been banned from filming council meetings.
A member of the public, Andrew Bower, recorded the meeting’s proceedings on video. He has reported that he was advised by the meeting’s chair, Cllr Boyce, not to film the public question section of the meeting. Cllr Boyce warned him he could find himself dragged through the courts by members of the public if he filmed them.
Given this pervasive environment of legal risk it is not a surprise that many refrain from expressing their views, refrain from activism, and generally don’t feel able to participate in society. Its something we need to reform, though speedy, cheap, fair and transparent justice which is in-touch with the real world.
- I, and opposition councillors, asked what the logic had been for banning me from filming council meetings, when the complaint had been about the council’s procedures. The City Council’s Chief Executive Antoinette Jackson responded to say the reason for my ban was as the complaint: “related to issues raised, various issues, around Mr Taylor’s particular filming of the North Area Committee”. As this question was asked a number of times it was clear the answer being given wasn’t generally considered very satisfactory.
- The committee was told Cllr Clare Blair was the “conduit” for the complaint which led to my filming ban
- A report from the Independent Complaint’s Investigator has been given to the council; its content is going to be kept secret until February on the grounds the Chief Executive needs time to consider what recommendations she is going to make for actions to take based on it.
- Cllr Boyce told the committee there were provisions to allow members of the public to speak anonymously at an area committee meeting. (I have looked in the council’s constitution, but can’t find any reference to these; they are also not mentioned on the meeting agendas where the public speaking procedures are explained). Therefore it appears the council may have a secret procedure for making anonymous contributions to area committees; no wonder they’re not used. Forms for submitting questions at area committees require names and addresses.
- Cllr Benstead said the council can only operate under the protocol it has in place at the moment; saying it was not a “movable feast”. He also asked what the grounds were for me being singled out for special treatment.
- The Chief Executive said she would rule on my personal ban, in consultation with the chair, and opposition spokesperson of the Civic Affairs committee within the next week or so. Any changes to the protocol will be discussed at the next meeting of the Civic Affairs committee which is scheduled for February.
Starts at 01:45 on the video. I am out of shot.
I’m Richard Taylor and I’m happy to have my contribution to this meeting filmed.
I though it might help if I related my experience recording council meetings to this committee.
I’ve asked for permission over the last few weeks to record meetings under the protocol which was devised by this committee and approved by the full council.
Despite the full council having approved the protocol on almost all occasions the protocol hasn’t been followed and additional, restrictive, provisions have been added by council officers, by meeting chairs, and in the case of the full council by the mayor.
- I’ve not been allowed to pan or zoom my camera which makes it very difficult to follow what’s going on
- I’ve been ordered to sit away from my camera; which means I can’t get to it to start or stop it or change batteries for example
- I’ve also been refused permission to film a council officer presenting a report to a committee.
- In the case of the full council, as you all know, I was refused permission to film any public speakers; or the responses by the council leader and executive councillors to those public speakers.
I would like to suggest that it would be very difficult for the professional media to be able to work under those conditions, to be able to cope with those restrictions. If they were to broadcast footage taken under those conditions; would probably have to note the fact their freedom to report had been curtailed by the regime in power.
I’d also like to note:
- My request for blanket permission to film all meetings was refused
- My requests to photograph and record audio have been denied.
- One key bit of the protocol which was not followed by any of the meeting chairs was the opt-in for public speakers. Not one meeting chair of a meeting which has been filmed has yet followed the protocol which requires a positive opt-in from public speakers. I think that might have caused some of the problems which have now occured.
The restrictions have now become greater as I have now been told I have been banned from filming meetings.
I was told there was a blanket ban on filming meetings; but I’ve now read in the Cambridge News that its just me who’s been banned.
I suggest councillors consider what’s gone on there. Has there been an attempted reverse ferret there by the council? Have they decided it would be easier to defend banning just me from filming than it would be to defend a blanket ban.
I’ can’t see what possible logic can there be for banning – just me – from filming, as a response to a complaint about the council’s procedures and the chair’s procedures at the North Area Committee.
I understand some people might think there is “no smoke without fire” and that as I’ve been banned from filming council meetings I must have done something wrong.
With respect to the North Area committee, the individual who arrived late was not “in shot”, I only recorded his voice. As I was made aware his concern about having been recorded straight after the meeting and before I had published by film I spoke his words with my own voice and placed my voice over the original recording. What I published was my own voice re-stating his words and a verbatim transcript.
I think the questions which are raised are not just about filming; its about if the public sections of meetings are in fact in public. I have been told now that the complainant even wanted his name not to be revealed. Public speakers’ names often end up published by the council in the meeting minutes and a couple of weeks ago a public speaker at the West Central Area Committee found her name and her comments on the front page of the Cambridge News.
I think that’s entirely right and as it should be; public council meetings are public arenas, and I would like to see anyone permitted to film / record / photograph so long as they do not disrupt proceedings.
I don’t think the council should be seeking to control who can access and effectively report on what goes on at council meetings. Operating transparently and openly, in public, with a free press, is essential to democracy.
In terms of questions I’d like to get answers to tonight:
1. When will the investigation report? Will it report to councillors?
2. If the complaint is about me, I need to be told what its about, and to have some involvement. I believe it is not about me though, but about the council’s procedures and I can’t see the logic in banning me.
The Chief Executive said the independent complaints investigator had issued a report.
I asked a follow-up question, asking if that report could be made public. I was told it would be, but not until the Chief Executive reports back to the committee. ie. in February. The Chief Executive said she needed some time to make recommendations based on it.
Other Item – Polling Stations
The meeting was called to discuss polling station locations.
Councillors made some minor changes to the location of polling stations; aiming to keep queues and walking distances short.
One interesting point was the revelation that a “polling place” has to be defined (especially in cases where polling stations are to be outside the ward?), and that if a particular building isn’t available for use as a polling station another site, within the “polling place” has to be found.
- Civic Affairs Committee – Andrew Bower, Coleridge Conservative Action Team, November 16th 2010.