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Colchester: Bid to ban recordings of council meetings

PUBLISHED: 08:00 06 March 2013

CONCERNS have been raised over proposals to ban members of the public from recording council meetings.

The cabinet of Colchester Borough Council is due to discuss the subject today following recommendations made by the Technology and Community Engagement Task and Finish Group.

The group, which focuses on technology issues for the local authority, has proposed there should be no filming or recording of council meetings without official consent.

The recommendation follows an incident last month when well-known Colchester blogger Jason Cobb, who writes the Colchester Chronicle blog, was reprimanded by an official for attempting to make an audio recording of a council meeting from the public gallery.

But Colchester-based parish councillor Ben Locker feels the ban would cut a section of the populace from council business. He said; “Recording meetings will help more people engage with local politics.

“At the moment, if people aren’t able to go to meetings they only get a precis of what happened though the official minutes, which are written weeks after meetings and are not in much detail. Recordings will open up a new window to a new audience.”

Mr Locker, who sits on Myland Community Council, added:“It’s also healthy from a transparency point of view. Councillors vote on contentious issues, such as whether they should have an increase in their expenses, and these sessions should be made public. People shouldn’t be frightened of this.”

Should the cabinet agree with the recommendations, it would be acting against advice offered by local government secretary Eric Pickles.

Back in 2011, Mr Pickles urged councils to open up their public meetings to local bloggers and allow online filming of public discussions as part of increasing their transparency,

He said at the time: “Opening the door to new media costs nothing and will help improve public scrutiny. The greater powers and freedoms that we are giving local councils must be accompanied by stronger local accountability.”

However, borough councillor, Sue Lissimore, who is a member of the technology group, said there were fears that recordings made by the public could be edited and used out of context.

She said: “If any recording is to take place, it should be done in an official capacity.”

But the technology group has also recommended that no form of official webcasting or sound recording be considered at the moment because of cost.

Ms Lissimore added: “The recommendation was made after we spoke to one supplier who quoted us £30,000 for the service, which is too much in the current situation.

“But we should look at this again to see if it can be done at less expense.”

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