Tonight Wrexham.com attended a Council meeting partially about the ‘twitter ban’ that is sort of in place at Wrexham Council meetings. We live tweeted bits from the meeting, and as Nick Bell observed on twitter of all places “so funny that you are tweeting during a meeting to debate on whether tweeting is allowed during meetings!.” The final decision as to whether social media, twitter or general broadcasting of Council meetings through these mediums has been put back to May at the earliest.
In early 2011 Wrexham.com were stopped from using laptops to work on live drafts of stories, and from tweeting in Council meetings. We complained and highlighted how this was not a good thing in our eyes.
Recently Councillors have been given iPads and social media training, with one member Cllr Arfon Jones tripping up on the same ban we encountered. As we said at the time , “We are still unsure if he was unaware of the rules or is aware of the rules and deliberately broke them to highlight and challenge their existence”. As this issue was now actually understood a large fuss ensued, with coverage in the Leader and Private Eye (referring to Wrexham Council as a ‘rotten borough’) plus the Daily Post mounting a campaign to get the rules changed.
Wrexham.com had a ‘first’ by being the media organisation to legitimately tweet inside a council meeting, and the world kept turning. It seems the fuss was not required, just a little education or experience from those interpreting the rules and for a polite request to be made.
Tonight Councillors Arfon Jones and David Bithell’s motion to the Council was be heard, delayed from last week due to the snow, which says “We call on Members to delete or suspend Standing Order 45 of the Council’s Constitution which prohibits the broadcasting or transmitting from any meetings without the consent of the chair. We believe that there should be a presumption that ‘social media’ CAN be used to transmit or broadcast information from all council meetings to which the press and public have access.”
Prior to the meeting an amendment was circulated, which was unsigned and not referenced. During the meeting it emerged this was proposed by Clr Malcolm King and seconded by Clr Neil Rogers.
Clr Arfon Jones stood to tell the Council that “the original standing order produced by someone who has never heard of Facebook & Twitter” and since the ‘twitter ban’ there has been ‘significant negative publicity’ generated.
Mr Jones cited our Live Tweeting as an example of coverage via social media which did not disrupt a meeting, and perhaps enhanced the debate.
He went on to reference the latest Daily Post campaign about transparency, and said the Welsh Government was supporting such moves saying “This is not a campaign for journalists but for greater openness and transparency.” Interestingly he asked if the Council did not support such a move would they then ask for local MP Ian Lucas to stop tweeting from Parliament.
Cllr David Bithell then spoke pointing out that “The Pope now has over 1.4m followers” and referred to a recent papal tweet where His Holiness (The Pope, not Mr Bithell) said “virtual worlds are real world and should not be ignored.”
Bizarrely and probably a first for the Wrexham Council chamber Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga had a mention to highlight the number of followers and reach. This was however contrasted against other politicians accounts who, surprisingly, were not as high.
Cllr Malcolm King stood and addressed the meeting about his proposed amendment saying “These standing orders were reviewed recently. They are not antiquated. We need to look at what social media refers to. It’s constantly changing.”
The Council were informed by Trevor Coxon that due to other standing orders and rules that it was not possible to suspend or delete the current rules in tonights meeting. There was no mention why a ‘faulty’ motion was allowed to be raised nor why such feedback was not given before tonights meeting. Despite this the discussion on the motion and amendment still took place.
Several councillors pointed out the current rules were agreed inside the last 12-18 months, and that although control and make up of the Council has changed recently there are some who previously agreed and supported the rules who now do not.
Cllr King said “This particular standing order was with reference to filming. To infer that democracy will collapse if we don’t push this through is slightly over egging it.”
Cllr Rogers seconded the amendment and requested clarification on whether there are standing orders in other local authorities in relation to social media. Mr Coxon said “There is only one other authority I am aware of outside of Wales.” The context appeared to be that other councils have yet to be challenged on the issue, and therefore a policy does not exist.
Member for the Liberal Democrats Cllr Carole O’Toole said her group were not against the principle of the motion but supported the amendment not the motion itself saying “We need definitions of words such as transmissions and broadcast” before pleading for clarification on the developing online world:- “We need detailed consideration of the different types of social media.”
Cllr Bob Dutton angled for caution and accountability amongst members and sought assurances that any policy should ensure that the “Member concerned is responsible for what goes out, not the council.”
Cllr Pritchard said the “amendments are a common sense approach.” However cautioned that:- “to have a robust policy takes some time. You are the face of this authority. What you tweet goes all over the world.” He made it clear he supported not only tweeting but cameras in meetings as well however did not want to see things decided ‘on the hoof’ saying:- “The way we do things in Wrexham is slowly and properly.”
A relatively lengthy but pragmatic debate ended with Cllr Jones withdrawing his motion, remarking “I am not surprised that nothing is happening with this tonight. I am disappointed that we can’t move ahead.” Referring to the Council’s AGM in May, when the matter ought to be sorted out, he said “I’m happy that we’re going to sort this out by May.”
The adoption of the amendment, which had become the motion to vote on, was agreed unanimously.
Our tweets from the meeting are below for the record:
…. to which the Council replied: