The government has announced that it will be creating a new law that will allow residents, bloggers and journalists to report, blog, tweet and film council meetings in England.
This follows previous attempts by the Department for Communities and Local Government to force councils to be more transparent, after a string of councils have continued to prevent individuals from recording council meetings on health and safety and legal grounds.
Public access to meetings is a key part of holding local councils and public bodies to account and it’s wholly wrong for people not being able to film or tweet in public meetings for spurious legal reasons. Whether through Freedom of Information law, filming council meetings or publishing data, transparency is a critical check on those in power and an essential part of defending our liberties.
Eric Pickles has said: “I asked for councils to open their doors, but some have slammed theirs shut, calling in the police to arrest bloggers and clinging to old-fashioned standing orders.
“This new right will be the key to helping bloggers and tweeters as well as journalists to unlocking the mysteries of local government and making it more transparent for all. My department is standing up for press freedom.”
It is disappointing some councils are still resisting transparency and that the Government has not only been required to produce clear guidance on the matter, but also go to Parliament in order to enshrine this right in legislation. The message from DCLG about the rules on this matter has become abundantly clear and individuals should feel confident that they can challenge over-zealous officials who seek to shut them out as decisions about their communities are being made.