Seeking Permission to Record Cambridge City Council Meetings


Saturday, September 18th, 2010. 1:52am


Cllr Sian Reid, Cllr Tim Bick and Cllr Rodrick Canrill at the June 2010 Cambridge City Council full council meeting.

This image of the Cambridge City’s June 2010 Full Council was taken without permission by a professional photographer and published online and in print by the Cambridge First newspaper.

Cambridge City Council allows people to take photos and videos in their meetings as long as permission is obtained first. While I have been observing the council I have only seen permission given for coverage of prize givings at the start of meetings and for establishing shots showing the general environment of a meeting to be filmed. In my experience video and recording equipment has always been ordered to be removed, or turned off, during the substantive elements of meetings.

I and others have been lobbying for greater transparency suggesting that unintrusive filming, photography and recording ought be permitted throughout council meetings as a matter of course. This would aid the press, campaigners, and others wishing to record and publicise what goes on within council meetings. (Official minutes are not verbatim transcripts, often omit key sections of debate, and are typically only published many weeks after a meeting).

The council has been robustly, though selectively, enforcing its rules on recording meetings. I first learnt about the restrictions when the Sergent-at-Mace rushed up to the public gallery during a council meeting to let me know I was not permitted to take photos (he left the mace in its cradle in the chamber). Since then the rules have been better publicised and are now often referred to on agendas and are quite easy to find on the council’s website. For a short period recently a procedure was adopted where all council meetings began with a statement from the chair making clear to the public that photography, filming and recording is not generally permitted. I was even at one meeting asked by the chair to attest that I was not using my laptop to record audio of what was being said. The rules are rather selectively enforced though I have observed councillors, council officers, and councillor’s guests take photos on a number of occasions. A press photographer has also openly taken photos without permission and despite being noticed (council officers guided him to the public gallery) his activity went unchallenged (see the caption of the image above).

I have also observed members of the professional press, and campaigners present at meetings making use of the public speaking slots, surreptitiously use recording devices; presumably to ensure they can accurately report on what has been said.

At the council’s Civic Affairs committee on the 30th of June 2010 [minutes] councillors debated their rules on filming meetings. It has been suggested to me that this debate in public followed a heated debate within the Liberal Democrat group who were split, with some wishing to retain secrecy and others accepting the idea of more openness. The question of if individual councillors ought be able to request they are not filmed was debated and a decision made not to give an opt-out to councillors on the grounds: “they should be expected to be in the spotlight”. Councillors decided not to allow filming without permission being obtained three days in advance. While the text of a new protocol agreed by the Civic Affairs Committee and approved by the Full Council doesn’t explicitly say so, its text indicates that requests for permission to film the substantive elements of council meetings will now be considered though as far as I am aware mine is the first application for such permission.

I would like to be able to take photographs or video at council meetings spontaneously; I don’t always know three days in advance that I will want to record a particular element of a council meeting. I suspect others will turn up at council meetings and decide they would like to take a photo or snippet of video but will not be aware of the three day notice period required.

The council’s new protocol doesn’t appear designed for individuals to seek permission to video all city council meetings; but as this is what I want, and it may circumvent the three-day notice rule for me (and prove others can similarly avoid it should they wish) I have requested such permission. The text of the email I sent the council earlier today is reproduced below:

Dear Mr Clift (Democratic Services Manager, Cambridge City Council),

This is a request under the protocol on media relations and filming, recording and photography at council meetings – approved at a meeting of full council on Thursday July 22, 2010.

I am writing to seek permission to Film / Record / Photograph all upcoming Cambridge City Council meetings, including committee meetings.

I will now address the questions I am required by the protocol to answer:

  • a. The name, organisation and contact details of the applicant making the request;

    Richard Taylor. Independent Cambridge Resident.
    rt —at- cantab.net

  • b. What the film/recording/photographs will be used for;

    My intent is to publicise what goes on within council meetings. I may post material to my own website:http://www.rtaylor.co.uk , post it on other websites eg. YouTube / Flickr and distribute it widely, to the public, councillors and others.

  • c. When the applicant wishes to film/ record/ photograph during the meeting;

    At all times.

  • d. How this information will be retained;

    I don’t fully understand what information is being sought by this question. Typically video, photos, or sound recordings will be initially retained on a memory card within the device used to capture the material. I will transfer selected material to other media during the process of publicising and distributing it. If material is uploaded to my website, or others’ websites the intention will be to make it accessible there indefinitely. I may also keep my own copies indefinitely.

  • e. The name of the meeting, the venue and the date;

    All City Council meetings ie. those listed at:

    http://www.cambridge.gov.uk/democracy/

    as well as other, unpublicised meetings eg. the Ranger Steering Group, University Liaison meetings etc.

    The first meeting I would like to record is the Planning Committee meeting on the 22nd of September 2010. I also have specific plans to record the West/Central Area committee on the 23rd of September, the North Area Committee on the 30th and Full Council on the 21st of October.

    I am seeking general permission as often an interesting debate occurs of which there has been no prior warning.

  • f. What will be captured (which parts of the meeting, which speakers and which observers);

    Potentially everything; though I will of course comply with directions from the chair.

I will now make the declarations / statements required by the protocol:

  • I have no intent to use flash photography or additional lighting.
  • I agree to ensure the film/recording/photographs will not be edited in a way that could lead to misinterpretation of the proceedings. This includes refraining from editing the views being expressed in a way that may ridicule or show a lack of respect towards those being filmed/ recorded/ photographed;
  • I agree to share the film/recording/photographs in its original and unedited form with the council’s democratic services manager on request. This is clearly conditional on my still having a copy in my possession. Due to the very large size of many media files I will be unable to keep a copy of all films/recordings/photographs taken.

Regards,

Richard Taylor
Cambridge

http://www.rtaylor.co.uk

I do not think I have completely signed away my right to ridicule. Publicising unedited snippets of meetings where councillors make themselves look silly simply through what they say is as I understand it perfectly acceptable.

I think it’s very illiberal of the Liberal Democrats to try and prevent those wishing to create funny videos by remixing their words (another, another, another, and another). I think that kind of thing might well bring some much needed life to debates on how Cambridge should be run and might introduce those running the city to a wider audience. I don’t think those in public life ought be afraid of satire and comedy.

This is an area Parliament has been battling with too, their 2009 Review of the Management of Parliamentary Copyright noted:

Coverage of debates or oral questions can be edited or modified to give a misleading impression, particularly if taken out of context of the wider exchange. This is perhaps not far removed from the use of short clips from PMQs or Select Committee hearings on television news programmes…

I, and many others, including possibly an MP, breach Parliamentary copyright to place material on YouTube to bring it to a wider audience and enable comment and debate on it. It is a great shame that personal legal risk has to be taken to do this kind of thing which otherwise may be more common.

I will provide updates in the comments noting any response, or further correspondence, with the council relating to my application for permission to record proceedings. I hope my request will clarify if individuals, campaign groups and media organisations can apply just once, make clear their acceptance of the councils terms, and then record future meetings without giving specific prior notice.

If I obtain ongoing permission to film/record/photograph all council meetings on an ongoing basis it will be ridiculous if the members of the public or professional press turning up on the day without advanced permission are denied the opportunity to make recordings when I am. I hope that my actions will draw attention to the problems and help prompt the adoption of a more reasonable and open policy. I think the council’s terms are unnecessary, overbearing and illustrate the degree of control freakery exercised by the ruling Liberal Democrats.

Ideally I think the council ought soon broadcast meetings online and make them available in an online archive just as Parliament and the London Assembly do. The technology to do this is getting ever cheaper and easier to use. The council already pays for a technician, and a number of committee officers to be present at most city council meetings who I would have thought could operate the equipment.

I think that if anyone was allowed to film or photograph Cambridge City Council meetings; subject only to no disruption to proceedings being caused, then we would soon see more debates or speeches of interest appear on YouTube and/or sites like mine and the connection between residents and councillors would be improved. We would be able to better monitor the performance of those they’ve we’ve sent to the council chamber to represent us, and voting decisions at elections would be better informed.

If anyone wants to volunteer to help me film some of the council’s proceedings do let me know either directly or in the comments.

See also

40 comments/updates on “Seeking Permission to Record Cambridge City Council Meetings

  1. John Lawton

    I agree with your aim to open up meetings to recording. If the Council posted live and/or recorded media of meetings online themselves, then that might discourage others from posting possibly unfairly doctored versions which is perhaps what they are afraid of.

    The technology is now so accessible they are unlikely to be able to hold out indefinitely against this.

  2. Frugal Dougal

    If the Council are too illiberal in their approach to recording information, people might resort to covert recording – see the interesting advertisement for a device housed inside a pen in today’s (18/9/10) Telegraph.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    Mr Clift has responded:

    Dear Mr Taylor

    I’m writing to acknowledge your request and inform you that the Chair
    of Planning Committee, Cllr Dixon, has agreed to your request to film on
    22/9/10. I am still dealing with the request for West/Central Area
    Committee on 23/9/10. I will come back to you separately on the blanket
    request to film meetings, but the priority is the request to film the
    two meetings this week.

    For advanced information, you will be seated in a fixed position within
    the committee room and I’d be grateful if you arrive at least 5 minutes
    before the meeting is due to start so a committee officer can arrange
    for that. You are also required not to use zoom lens filming ie.
    close-ups only normal view filming.

    I’d also like to point out in case you haven’t already read it in the
    protocol that you will need to respect the request of those members of
    the public who do not wish to be filmed or recorded. The Chair will ask
    that question of those present at the start of the meeting.

    Finally, it would be very helpful if you could provide a daytime
    contact number in case I need to get hold of you tomorrow/Wednesday
    regarding these filming requests.

    Many thanks

    Gary Clift
    Democratic Services Manager
    01223 457011

    I have responded to say:

    Dear Mr Clift,

    Many thanks for your message.

    My phone number is 07971 524076

    I fully understand that the filming has to be completely unintrusive and that I will not be able to move around during the meeting.

    While I’ve not obviously not filmed any city council meetings before; I have filmed other similar events and have been able to place my camera in a corner of the room, on a small tripod and leave it there throughout the meeting. The kind of result I would be hoping for can be seen at:

    http://vimeo.com/10882356

    I’m happy to comply with whatever the committee manager and chair ask of me on the day.

    Regards,

    Richard Taylor
    Cambridge
    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have now filmed the first two meetings and have posted a number of videos online from the planning meeting.

    I experienced my first councillor objecting to being filmed at the West Central Area Committee on the 23rd of September.

    No Cambridge City Council meeting is complete without an angry intervention from a Lib Dem who has apparently gone slightly bonkers. At the special West Central Area committee meeting to discuss proposed tree works on Midsummer Common the county councillor for Castle, Belinda Brooks-Gordon stepped up to the mark. She angrily claimed that the reason the city’s residents are worried about way the City Council manages trees in the city is due to irresponsible scaremongering by me and the Cambridge News.

    Perhaps I should be flattered she credits me with such influence.

    The reason I have noted this on this thread, is that she went on to complain about the fact I was filming the meeting. She said she would hold me responsible if any of her constituents got burgled as a result of being filmed; and questioned, in a threatening manner, if I was “covered” for that.

    Presumably Brooks-Gordon hasn’t come across the concept of a camcorder and thinks all video cameras broadcasting live TV to the nation allowing burglars to spot who’s not in their homes.

    Brooks-Gordon went on to share her professional expertise with the committee (she’s an “academic in forensic psychology” according to her entry on the Lib Dem parliamentary candidates directory) she proclaimed:

    Trees don’t cause rape; there’s not even a correlation and certainly no proven causal link.

    Straight away after the bizarre event I tweeted:

    County Cllr Brooks Gordon not happy with meeting being filmed. Claiming could cause her constituents to be burgled. Idiot.

  5. Chris Rand

    You can’t hide what you’re doing any longer, Richard. They clearly now know you have the technology to live stream video to the interweb. I think maybe they’re just upset that because you’re putting them on TV live, they won’t be able to watch it when they get home. Unless someone remembered to set the VCR to record. Or something like that, anyway.

  6. Anne Garvey

    As ever, brilliant stuff, edited it would transform local democracy.
    At last night’s tree debate we heard conflicting claims that healthy trees would never be cut down for the sake of fashion or appearance, and then 10 minutes later the exact opposite from the Tree Officer who clearly has it in for certain species. Recording would at least highlight these blatant contradictions.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    Some Liberal Democrat councillors are still wary about their meetings being filmed. Cllr Cantrill followed up Brooks-Gordon’s bizarre concerns at a meeting of the Cambridge City Council Executive this evening:

    The meeting was being filmed by a small camcorder, not attached to any laptop or other equipment, quite how Cllr Canrill thought it might be streaming live, or who he thought might be watching baffles me.

    I resisted the temptation to respond: “Yes councillor, you’re live on BBC 1.”

  8. Kelv (Cambrige,UK)

    I would be inclined to push for all meetings be recorded with an in house system, as opposed to a member of the public seeking permission to attend to make a recording. The recordings could then be made available on the web for anyone who wishes to view them.

  9. Richard Taylor Article author

    I agree that the council ought film their meetings and make the footage available online. There are many flaws with their current arrangement hopefully by taking advantage of what they do allow, and highlighting the problems I will be able to help push them towards a more fitting arrangement.

    At the next meeting which attracts mass public interest we will perhaps see many people seeking to film; that might be the point at which the council realise it would be best if they did the filming themselves.

    Wrexham Council yesterday voted to add itsself to the list of more than 50 local authorities across the UK which film their meetings and make them available, both live and recorded.

    While Cambridge City Council’s arrangements have recently taken a big step forward they are poor by comparison. Given the high-tech nature of the area and the high level of interest in local democracy shown by Cambridge residents it is disappointing the council is not a leader in this area.

  10. Belinda B-G

    Dear Mr Taylor,

    I am very much in favour of the full (ie unedited) transmission of all council proceedings. Not least because proper transmission allows people who cannot get to meetings to hear them. It may also correct the misrepresentation you frequently make of meetings.

    I believe that councils should try to do this, and with a camera that swivels directly to the elected representative talking.

    It is fair enough to film councillors when they are speaking but having supported people who feel nervous speaking at a formal meeting I think it puts a lot of pressure on residents to be filmed doing it. Ethically, it should be an opt-in rather than an opt-out decision for residents.

    At that meeting, a resident raised their fear that excessive tree coverage could cause rape, and said they had learnt it from a psychologist. I addressed that concern (perhaps you did you not hear the gentleman who raised the point or perhaps you were busy with your equipment). I mentioned my own professional qualifications because it made sense to illustrate the position from which I spoke (ie as someone who is familiar with the research) to allay this particular concern. I went on to mention that there has been much work on the relationship of lighting (rather than trees) to crime.

    Crime and fear of crime is a serious issue; it affects how people use public space. It was entirely appropriate to discuss it. The issue had been mentioned by 2 residents that evening and raised by many more in the questionnaire. Are you implying that these should be ignored?

    Even more worrying than your inability to understand those straightforward points, you miss the point entirely about the responsibility you have to the people you film.

    I raised the issue of informed consent. Whenever TV companies film short snippets they ensure that people are giving full informed signed consent, not only to filming but also to the use of the material afterwards. I not see you get informed signed consent from anyone, and was concerned that you might not have taken this basic step, courtesy even.

    I made the point about your responsibility re: theft because there have been cases reported of people being burgled having stated on Facebook they were on holiday. Sportspeople’s homes get burgled when they play away matches. If you film people who regularly attend local meetings, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that residents who are seen on your video attending regular meetings could be the targets of thieves.

    These residents are my concern. I hope you will explain the steps you are taking to address this.

    I do not mind one jot that you sit perched on the edge of your seat staring intently at the front of (Lib Dem) City Council meetings, ignore (Tory) County Council meetings, and have a nasty streak.

    You clearly have political ambition as a ‘Condependent’ and in trying to further this spread your own particular brand of myth and misinformation. I care very much, however, about the dignity, safety and rights of my residents.

  11. Andrew Bower

    RT: “No Cambridge City Council meeting is complete without an angry intervention from a Lib Dem who has apparently gone slightly bonkers.”

    BBG: “I do not mind one jot that you sit perched on the edge of your seat staring intently at the front of (Lib Dem) City Council meetings, ignore (Tory) County Council meetings, and have a nasty streak.”

    I think this might just be a taster of what is to come. Enjoy this clip of Lib Dem Cllr Hilary Jones, sometime leader of Derby City Council:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4FtPWTTOOk

  12. John Lawton

    Ah, hilarious Hilary! I love the Mayor’s facial expressions throughout the video. Cambridge is rather dull by comparison.

    Cllr Brooks-Gordon’s contribution in the meeting seemed rather more strident than her submission above. BTW, Cllr., please do not pair crime and fear of crime. Fear of crime can be illusory, it is a matter of perception. Crime is not. Managing the fear of crime does not reduce crime.

    TV companies certainly do NOT always obtain consent. Ask anyone at the Folk Festival whether they gave permission to be videoed while they watched the performances on main stage one. They did not. It may happen for individual interviews though.

    Blanket permission will have to be assumed for council meetings to make recording workable. That is why the council put up notices on Thursday ‘warning’ of recording taking place.

  13. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cllr Brooks-Gordon was not present at the start of the West/Central Area Committee so may not be aware of the chair’s rulings with respect to filming which were made. Also as a county councillor she may also not be fully aware of the city council’s new protocol on filming.

    She suggests I ought to have obtained signed consent from those members of the public who I filmed. This however is not a provision which has been included in the council’s filming protocol which has been carefully considered by councillors, both in public and I have been told in secret Lib Dem group meetings. The protocol was approved by the full council.

    As Lib Dems typically do Brooks-Gordon is calling for something which is already in place when she suggests that members of the public ought have to opt-in to allow themselves to be filmed.

    The protocol states:

    The chair will announce at the beginning of the meeting that permission to film/ record/ photograph has been requested and permitted. The chair will ask any members of the public whether or not they agree to be filmed/ recorded/ photographed.
    This will be done on an opt-in rather than an opt-out basis to ensure individuals do not feel pressurised.

    However at the West Central area committee Cllr Kightley, the meeting’s chair, decided to reverse this and at the beginning of the meeting asked any member of the public who did not want to be filmed to say so before speaking. This appears to have been decided in advance, perhaps in light of the special nature of the meeting, specifically intended to allow the public to have their say directly to councillors. The notices Mr Lawton refers to which were posted at the meting also make clear an “opt-out” procedure was in operation:

    Filming may occur, opt out possible, notice from the meeting

    Cllr Brooks-Gordon walked past a number of these notices as she entered, (one was on the end of the desk she sat at). The fact filming was taking place, and there was an opportunity to opt out, was noted prominently on the meeting papers – copies of which were on all the public seats. In line with Mr Lawton’s view, I think this is the most workable (and least disruptive) way for a meeting such as this to be run.

    As Cllr Kightly took another step not called for by the protocol (and in my view contrary to it) and sought the committee’s agreement to filming taking place before allowing me to turn my camera on. When Cllr Kightley told me of his ruling, about 30 minutes before the meeting I argued against it, but agreed to comply with it. This meant I was not permitted to record the section of the meeting where he explicitly asked any member of the public who did not wish to be filmed to say so before speaking. I had wanted to record any discussion on the filming arrangements, and what was said to those present, but was not allowed to.

    If Brooks-Gordon didn’t like the reversal of the opt-in rule; it is something she ought to have turned up at the beginning of the meeting to argue against, and something she should now take up with her party colleagues if she wants to remove this element of chair’s discretion (via a constitutional amendment) for the future.

    Clearly there is no problem with filming anyone in a public place; if a public council meeting is a public place or not is a debatable point; I think it pretty much is.

    I had obtained the chair’s permission to film, via council officers, in advance of the meeting. I arrived half an hour before the meeting and sought approval from the chair and officers of my camera permission. I had discussed pivoting my camera around so I would be able to capture all of those present with the committee manager the day before (though that does not amount to obtaining permission, it is not something I did without consideration). At the planning committee the chair, Cllr Dixon, had not permitted me to sit with my camera, meaning I was unable to move it; this also meant I was unable to capture images of some councillor’s contributions. Speaking at the meeting of the Executive on the 24th of September council leader Sian Reid has now suggested councillors and officers might like to consider if pivoting a camera is permitted or not by the protocol. The protocol requires filming be done “from positions in the meeting room approved by the chair”, it does not specify if “position” includes the direction in which the camera will be pointed. I think it is useful to get these problems ironed out now before a meeting of significant public interest occurs which the professional media, or campaign groups will wish to film.

    I already made clear (in comment 9) my support for filming of council meetings to be carried out by the council and for the full content to be placed online. Cllr Brooks Gordon, as a member of the Liberal Democrats is presumably in a better position than I am to prompt the Lib Dem run city council to do this. What I am able to do is use the provision the council has made to actively make the city council’s procedures more open than they ever have been before, and hopefully take the council a step further towards the ideal situation which is being adopted by an increasing number of councils and similar bodies.

    I think that all those participating in a public meeting, or seeking to influence council decision making in other ways eg. objecting or supporting planning or licensing applications ought do so in public. That said I accept and have formally agreed, in writing, to comply with the city council’s filming protocol which allows members of the public to opt out. (My article on the Planning Committee’s discussion of the Holy Trinity Church War Memorial trees which includes a full video, which excludes the public speaker as I was not permitted to film her speaking).

    Brooks Gordon is still making the rather bizarre claim that filming council meetings increases chances of residents who regularly attend such meetings risk being burgled. This is so ludicrous I’m not sure it really needs rebutting. To suggest I’m risking the “dignity, safety and rights” of Cambridge residents by filming a council meeting is utterly bonkers; this kind of attitude from councillors might well deter others who might wish to bring what the council is doing to a wider audience. I note that in writing Brooks Gordon has not admitted that the concern she raised at the meeting was based on her “fear” I was broadcasting the meeting live. This fact has been confirmed by Cllr Cantrill as can be seen in the clip above.

    As for conflating this issue with the very long term future state of lighting on Jesus Green and Midsummer Common following the establishment of any new planting; I think that’s best dealt with on a separate article. I regularly report, and lobby for the repair of, streetlights on and around the open spaces (eg. 1,2). As someone who for number of years “commuted” over Jesus Green, often in the dark, I have been lobbying on this matter for almost a decade now. I have also pushed for better signage of the city council’s CCTV cameras on the green spaces so that their deterrence and reassurance effects can be increased; and so their presence can be more widely known and their necessity debated openly. (I oppose the permanent presence of a camera on Midsummer Common). I have now actually listened to the public speakers, and officer responses, on the subject three or in some cases four times.

    Brooks Gordon both accuses me of not listening to a point made at a meeting and complains, in a roundabout way, that I “sit perched on the edge of [my] seat staring intently at the front of (Lib Dem) City Council meetings”. I presume the type of members of the public the Lib Dems want to see at their meetings are like those they invite to their annual meeting – who turn up and watch the ceremonial parade, the prayers, and the councillors giving each other prizes and honorary titles, get invited to the taxpayer funded buffet but don’t return for the substantive element of the meeting.

    On the accusation I have not been focusing on the County Council; this is something I have recently addressed on the comments on another thread. I have attended and commented on a number of County Council meetings, including a number of Transport AJCs (3). I participated in, and wrote extensively, about the proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Transport Commission(4,5). I have also been to a Cambridgeshire Horizons meeting(6) and regularly attend and write about Police Authority meeting (7). I also regularly comment on what Cambridge’s MP is doing in Parliament(8) and push for openness and transparency nationally both through lobbying and activism(9,10). I write about what interests me, what I consider important, and I also think the best use of my time is to write about things which others’ are not covering in depth. As a result local matters such as policing Cambridge(11), and LibDem threats to Jesus Green and Midsummer Common (12,13,14 ) do get a lot of coverage in what I write. That said though I publish my views on a wide range of matters and have recently written about academy schools(15), and trident renewal (16) for example.

    I support a number of the LibDem’s key policies; such as safeguarding civil liberties and promoting openness and transparency. I am also a strong supporter of democracy. I think it is very important try and publicise where councillors are not behaving in office in the way the electorate might expect, given their manifestos. That is one reason I have followed the North Area committee’s approval of a police priority which denies people access to due process the courts if they are caught speeding or driving carelessly on Fen Road(17), and where LibDems act in a secretive manner(18).

    As for a party allegiance I really don’t have one – in a typical week I get called a socialist, a tory, a liberal and often more. This isn’t a result of me changing my views, but by people struggling to pigeon hole my non-partisan views on the kind of society I’d like to live in, and what I think could be done to make Cambridge and the UK a more pleasant place to live.

    If the Liberal Democrats, and Brooks-Gordon, were listening to the public comments at the West Central area committee they would have heard many residents, including me, urge them to adopt a more open approach, and suggesting to them that doing so would in fact improve the public perception of their actions. At the meeting it was revealed that much felling took place as a result of a comprehensive survey of tree safety a few years ago – before this I (and others present) didn’t think that fact had been publicised and the suggestion was made that if it had been then Cambridge residents would have been more understanding of the felling the city has seen. I also called on Cllr Cantrill to follow the council’s tree protocol at an early stage in the consideration of tree works (to place notices on trees under threat), and to only go out to consultation on proposals there is a chance he is going to approve (a measure designed to reduce the publication of mass felling proposals which cause alarm, instituted by his predecessor Cllr Smith, but not being followed under Cantrill).

    I would say that LibDem outbursts at city council meetings are regularly at least as shocking as that seen in the clip Andy Bower has posted above. Those filming the city council are not permitted to edit video “in a way that may ridicule or show a lack of respect towards those being filmed” so while I will be free to publicise video of councillors making fools of themselves, putting it to a soundtrack like that used in the clip would probably not be acceptable; what others might do with the footage once it gets out is another matter though.

  14. Richard Taylor Article author

    My email from the council confirming permission to film the West/Central Area Committee on the 23rd of September:

    Dear Mr Taylor,
    West/Central Area Committee – 23 September, The Small Hall, The Guildhall 7.30pm

    The Chair, Cllr Kightley has agreed to your request to film/record. If you could arrive a few minutes beforehand so the committee officer (Mr Burgess) can assist with location etc.

    I appreciate that I am still to reply on the request to film all city council meetings etc. as answered by under (e) in your email of 17/9.

    Regards

    Gary Clift
    Democratic Services Manager
    01223 457011

  15. Phil Rodgers

    Do you really believe that “all those…seeking to influence council decision making…ought do so in public”? Surely there are many situations in which residents ought to be able to contact councillors or council officers about some council decision without their communications being recorded and published.

  16. Richard Taylor Article author

    Phil,

    I think that individuals’ correspondence with their elected representatives ought be considered confidential, unless the individual decides to make it public. That’s a really important foundation block, and safeguard, of our democracy and something to be defended at all costs.

    However I made clear this is not what I am talking about here in the sections you’ve replaced with “…”. When it comes to representations made at or in advance of public meetings, then I do think those ought be made public as a matter of course.

    If individuals don’t want to engage in public they can still correspond, or meet, privately with their representatives. I don’t for example think you ought be able to object anonymously to a planning application. I also don’t think you ought be able to address a council meeting anonymously, or without expecting to be filmed, photographed, and potentially ending up on the front page of the local paper. (The words of one of those who spoke on the 23rd did in fact end up on the front page of the Cambridge-News this weekend).

  17. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have received further correspondence from the council:

    Mr Taylor,

    I am contacting you with reference to your filming of The Executive meeting on Friday 24 September.

    You emailed on the 17 September and formally requested to film at a number of Council meetings (including the Planning Committee and the West/Central Area Committee held last week). The Executive Meeting did not form part of this request and we had therefore not sought prior agreement with the Chair.

    Your request for a ‘blanket permission’ to film at all Council meetings is still being processed and I believe the Democratic Services Manager will be contacting you later this week. Until this has been formally approved I would request that you still provide us with the three working days notice – as required by the protocol.

    The next meeting that you have formal approval to film at is the North Area Committee on 30 September.

    Kind Regards

    Glenn Burgess
    Committee Manager
    Customer and Democratic Services
    Cambridge City Council
    Tel: 01223 457169

    As well as filming entire meetings or items when it is clear they will be of interest in advance; it would be useful to be able to get a camera out at key points eg. a vote which is difficult to record in detail otherwise.

  18. Helen Lynn

    Richard, I rarely have time even to properly read your expositions of proceedings at Council meetings and commentaries upon them, but it is invariably interesting and useful when I do. I have written to my Ward Councillors urging that they support your application for permission to film, and that of anyone else who makes a similar request.

  19. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have received a further message from the council:

    Dear Mr Taylor

    I’ve heard back from the Chair of the North Area Committee who has agreed with your request to film on 30/9/10. As mentioned previously, if you arrive at the venue a few minutes before the meeting so the Committee Manager James Goddard can advise you of where your equipment should be set up, camera to be in a fixed position, no zoom or panning the room. Thank you.

    Gary Clift
    Democratic Services Manager
    01223 457011

    I am considering checking if I need to attend at 18.30 for the planning, or if arriving as I usually do just before the main agenda is taken at 19.30 will be sufficient.

    It will be hard to properly cover the policing and open forum sections of the meeting if I am unable to pan the camera.

    As it appears these terms also apply to my request to photograph that is even more bizarre. Hopefully the chair will allow me to hold my stills camera in my hand and point it towards the action (eg. votes, public speakers, the police etc.).

  20. Richard Taylor Article author

    Mr request for generic permission to film all council meetings has been rejected; I and others will have to seek permission on a meeting by meeting basis:

    Dear Mr Taylor

    I apologise for not replying sooner on your request to film all Council meetings in your email of 17/9/10.

    As the filming protocol requires a request to be made at least three working days ‘before the meeting’ you are requested to do this for each meeting you wish to film/record ie. there is no provision for a blanket request to film everything under the protocol. You will be no doubt disappointed and disagree with this decision but that is the position.

    The next meeting at which the Chair has given permission to film is the North Area Committee on 30/9/10.

    You are reminded that filming should be from a fixed position (which the Chair will agree in advance) with no panning around the meeting room and no zooming in.

    I’m sure that you will be interested to know that the Council will be looking into options to film and record its meetings.

    Regards

    Gary Clift
    Democratic Services Manager
    01223 457011

    I think generic permission to film/record/photograph meetings would have been of value to a number of the regular observers at city council meetings such as residents associations, the professional media, campaign groups, political party activists and prospective candidates. On the one hand councillors complain that they’re misrepresented yet they don’t make it easy for accurate records of meetings to be kept. I suspect that if the professional press were allowed to take photos (without giving three days notice) more stories on how the city is being run would appear in the paper.

    This raises all sorts of questions: How many meetings at a time can for permission to film be made? How far in advance can I make these requests?

    It is excellent to hear the council is now looking into options to film / record its meetings.

  21. Richard Taylor Article author

    Another problem with the current protocol, to add to those already mentioned, is that it requires attendance from the start of the meeting. In the case of the North Area Committee this means to film it I will have to turn up over an hour before the items I am interested in filming are scheduled to be debated.

    I have written to the chair, and copied the committee officer:

    Cllr Nimmo-Smith,

    Many thanks for agreeing to my request to film/photograph/record tomorrow’s North Area Committee meeting.

    While I will do my best to attend prior to the 18.30 official start, I will be coming from outside Cambridge via the notoriously unreliable A14, so may seek your agreement on a camera position in your usual break before the 19.30 start of the main agenda.

    I hope this will be acceptable. I will come prepared with a notebook in case it isn’t.

    Regards,

    Richard Taylor
    Cambridge
    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk

  22. Richard Taylor Article author

    I attended the North Area committee at about 18.15.

    The committee manager told me I had permission to film, but not photograph the meeting.

    Senior City Council Officer, Principal Landscape Architect Diana Foly-Norman, asked the chair of the committee Cllr Ian Nimmo-Smith before the meeting if she could not be filmed, she didn’t mind her voice being recorded but didn’t want images of her captured. Cllr Nimmo-Smith acceded to the request, and told me to move my camera so she was not filmed while speaking.

    Cllr Nimmo-Smith asked if any members of the public didn’t want to be filmed. One, Cllr Blair’s friend Lil Speed, put her hand up and moved well out of shot to the back of the room.

    Cllr Nimmo-Smith separated being filmed from having a voice recorded, and asked anyone who didn’t wish what they said to be recorded to say so before speaking.

    Mr Bond of the Old Chesterton Residents Association told me personally, but not the committee, that he was keeping out of shot as he didn’t want to be filmed. I pointed out he make clear to the committee, if he didn’t want anything he said recorded.

    During the meeting no member of the public elected not to have their contributions recorded.

    Following the meeting, the chair, Cllr Ian-Nimmo Smith wrote to me saying:

    Dear Mr Taylor

    I have had a request from a member of the public not to publish the video footage that included his contributions relating to Fen Road and Evergreens during the policing item. The person making the request was a latecomer to the meeting and was not aware till late in the proceedings that a recording was being made. If he had been there at the start he woujld have been able to request not to be recorded when taking part.

    Clearly we are learning about how to operate with the new recording protocol and I will make sure that on future occasions latecomers are aware of whar is happening, know where to sit if they wish to not to be filmed, and that they are given the right to have the recording turned off when they are contributing to a discussion.

    I think there are valid grounds of personal security that justify this request and I look to you to confirm that you will comply.

    Yours sincerely

    Ian Nimmo-Smith

    I note there were clear signs on the doors to the room saying filming may be taking place and there was an option to opt out.

  23. Cllr Andy Pellew

    I congratulate you on your persistence Richard and I actually agree with un-edited Council Meetings being uploaded to YouTube (or the like).

    Have you approached the County Council to ask for permission to film some of their daytime meetings (like Full Council) which are notoriously under-attended by the general public? I for one would welcome the publicity for what Councillors do …

    On a slightly more technical note … 360p? When can we expect to see Councillors in glorious HD :-)

  24. Richard Taylor Article author

    There’s a trade off between the video quality and both the length of time I can film for and the amount of time it takes to prepare the videos for upload.

    A number of the videos on my YouTube and Vimeo channels are HD, but not as yet any from city council meetings.

    The city council has its day time meetings too; there was one today, this silly petty arguments between the city and county just because one’s run by one party and the other by another are not in the interests of Cambridge residents.

  25. Cllr Andy Pellew

    If the City (Liberal Democrat) and the County (Conservative) agreed on everything and didn’t argue why would it matter whose box you ticked at elections?

    And besides – everyone sitting in a room and agreeing on everything wouldn’t make good TV would it?!

    Anyway I applaud what you’re doing – videoing and sharing Council meetings – and hope it continues.

  26. Richard Taylor Article author

    Apparently there was a letter in Thursday’s Cambridge News saying meetings should not be filmed, on the grounds of invasion of privacy.

    Has anyone got the full text of the letter (The Cambridge News don’t put them online anymore), it sounds as if it might warrant a response; especially if it’s from a LibDem.

  27. Richard Taylor Article author

    A reader has given me a copy of the letter:

    Meetings should not be filmed.</p>
<p>On September 30 I attended an area committee meeting and the police and councillors were there. I was very angry to find that someone had given Richard Taylor permission to film it. </p>
<p>Mr Taylor is only a member of the public. This should not be allowed and should be stopped as it's invading people's lives. </p>
<p>Whoever gave him permission should be stopped, it could be put on YouTube and people's lives could be put in danger. </p>
<p>If you take photos of children you would be in trouble, yet an ordinary person can be allowed to record and take photos at a meting. It has got to be stopped. </p>
<p>If I told the police I was being targeted by a gang of boys and it was recorded on YouTube I could have been in a lot of trouble with the gang. This is 100 per cent true. </p>
<p>L Speed<br />
Kendal Way<br />
Cambridge.

    Meetings should not be filmed.

    On September 30 I attended an area committee meeting and the police and councillors were there. I was very angry to find that someone had given Richard Taylor permission to film it.

    Mr Taylor is only a member of the public. This should not be allowed and should be stopped as it’s invading people’s lives.

    Whoever gave him permission should be stopped, it could be put on YouTube and people’s lives could be put in danger.

    If you take photos of children you would be in trouble, yet an ordinary person can be allowed to record and take photos at a meting. It has got to be stopped.

    If I told the police I was being targeted by a gang of boys and it was recorded on YouTube I could have been in a lot of trouble with the gang. This is 100 per cent true.

    L Speed
    Kendal Way
    Cambridge.

    It is by someone, Lil Speed, who Lib Dem Cllr Clare Blair has described as a friend. Ms Speed also runs the ward based policing meetings in East Chesterton which are not open to the public and give the LibDems the opportunity to say one thing to the public and do another.

  28. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have just been sent details of my permission to film the upcoming full council meeting on the 21st of October. Could you imagine the BBC being prepared to work with the below?!

    Dear Mr Taylor,

    As you are aware, the Mayor has agreed to your request to film the Full Council meeting on 21 October 2010.

    The Mayor has put the following conditions in place:

    - the camera will be positioned in one corner of the Council Chamber
    - the camera will be in a fixed position with no zooming or panning
    - the Mayor will approve the view from the camera prior to the start of the meeting
    - you will be asked to be seated in the upstairs public gallery
    - I will take responsibility (under prior guidance from you) for stopping the filming if/when requested throughout the proceedings

    It would be useful if you could arrive 20 minutes prior to the start of the meeting so that the equipment etc can be set up. I will be available from 5.30pm in the Council Chamber to assist you.

    Should you have any questions/queries, or need any further information prior to the 21 October please do not hesitate to contact me.

    Kind Regards

    Glenn Burgess
    Committee Manager
    Customer and Democratic Services
    Cambridge City Council
    Tel: 01223 457169

  29. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have received an update, filming the public speaking section of Cambridge City Council’s full council meeting is not to be permitted:

    Dear Mr Taylor,

    Following a meeting with the Mayor it has now been agreed that filming/recording will not be permitted whilst members of the public are addressing tomorrows Full Council meeting.

    Filming throughout the rest of the proceedings will obviously still be permitted (as per the attached)

    Kind Regards

    Glenn Burgess
    Committee Manager
    Customer and Democratic Services
    Cambridge City Council
    Tel: 01223 457169

    This is the section of the meeting where we might get the MP turning up, and where we have seen Parliamentary Candidates address the council. For there to be a blanket ban is utterly unreasonable.

    If I ask a public question during the full council later today, despite having permission to film the rest of meeting I won’t be able to film that and post it on this site.

    It appears I may be able to obtain councillor’s responses to public questions though; assuming the committee staff are able to deal with the play/pause button.

  30. Andrew Bower

    This is a disappointing development. The contributions made in public questions are influencing an official decision-making meeting and can lead to undertakings or information from members of the council which are of public interest.

    I think even an opt-out is questionable and should be seen as a courtesy to public speakers wishing to opt out rather than a right that they ought to have.

  31. Richard Taylor Article author

    Following a complaint from a member of the public Cambridge City Council has banned all filming of its council meetings subject to an investigation.

    Dear Mr Taylor

    I*m emailing to let you know that I have received a complaint from a
    member of the public about being filmed by you at North Area Committee
    on 30 September.

    The complaint is that the person was not made aware the filming was
    being done by a third party and therefore that person had not given
    informed consent to be filmed and to have voice, name etc. published on
    the internet.

    I have asked the Independent Complaints Investigator to deal with the
    complaint and make any recommendations.

    Whilst the investigation is being undertaken (and this should not take
    too long) requests to film by members of the public will not be agreed
    to.

    I will let you know the outcome of the complaint as soon as I know.

    Gary Clift

    Gary Clift
    Democratic Services Manager

    It is notable that the man chairing the North Area Committee, is the deputy mayor; he would normally be expected to be promoted to Mayor next year.

    It is shocking, astounding, that a member of the public thinks they can make a contribution in public, to an area committee and not have their name published online. As I have pointed out members of the public are regularly identified by name in the official minutes published online by the council, and on occasion their names end up in the local paper.

    While I don’t know who has made the decision, if it is an officer or an elected councillor, but whoever they are they are going against a protocol allowing filming which has been approved by the full council.

    My report of on an element of meeting in question is at:
    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/recording-council-meetings.html#comment-58698
    Films of other items of the meeting are on YouTube;

  32. cobweb

    Given that you’ve been careful to say what you were doing at the meetings Richard, I take what the complainant says as a terminological inexactitude.

  33. Doug Pederson AKA SpectateSwamp

    I was videoing council meetings in Osoyoos BC Canada and nearby Oliver. Oliver enforced a resolution prohibiting citizen video and Osoyoos put through the same resolution. I would shoot 2 minute clips with a very quick “stop Start” between. Very little was lost and any specific video could be later looked at. What they didn’t like was “I was editorializing too much” People could make comments on the videos. They didn’t have control of the video either.

    Example: Staff were looking into the per diem rates. They got comparison from other levels of government. What the citizens wanted to know was: How much a year do we spend. Take a lunch we do. Why so much out of town travel. Stay home. That kind of thing.

    The resolution prohibited video in any town facility. I had my own resolution to ignore theirs. They really didn’t like it when I went into their “open budget” meeting.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XuLmtrhl3I

    I plan on running in the next election (may 14 2013) on a platform of total transparency.

    http://www.telusplanet.net/public/stonedan I have 1 video promise up on Youtube and will start doing more as soon as I do my press release.

  34. Pingback: The case for allowing recording at Brackley Town Council meetings | Cllr Alexander Dutton

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