Wrexham Council are set to make a decision that could allow ‘Tweeting’ from Council meetings. However this decision will not allow image based reporting in a ‘rule change’, that is in effect not changing anything.
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.
Since then we have pushed to get this archaic restriction removed, and the Daily Post jumped on the bandwagon making it a fully blown ‘campaign’. This was at the same time Trinity Mirror enacted staffing cuts and generalising content across its titles, so such a keen interest in hyperlocal live reporting seemed odd.
Similarly the Leader, who are seeing a drop in their circulations, have also have taken an interest in Twitter (mainly with the @Wrexham account it seems!) and have almost worked out how to use it.
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 the nonsensical nature of the rules were now actually understood by those who created them, a large fuss ensued with coverage extending to Private Eye who referred to Wrexham Council as a ‘rotten borough’.
On Wednesday it is likely the current Council rules will be replaced with the following wording:
(ii) Use of text based social media such as Twitter, Facebook etc., and SMS text messaging by Members who are not appointed to the body whose meeting they are attending, the press and the public is permitted during meetings provided that this does not cause a nuisance or annoyance to others attending the meeting. If any activity permitted under this Standing Order shall create a nuisance or annoyance to others attending the meeting, Standing Orders 15 and 16 may be invoked relating to Disorderly Conduct and Disturbance of meetings to resolve the issue.
No broadcasting, photographing, video or sound recording, or any transmission of proceedings or information from a meeting will be permitted where the Press and Public have been excluded as permitted under the provisions of the Local Government Act 1972.
(iii) Social Media be defined as text based social media such as Twitter, Facebook, etc., and SMS text messaging.
Bizarrely public and press are able to communicate, however those with publicly funded iPads and connectivity are not.
The rules appear to be drafted with Twitter almost solely in mind, unless there are members of the press and public using text message group chats to fire out up to the minute information. The definition of social media is also very narrow, however does include an ‘etc’ as a get out, perhaps for future proofing.
Due to the wording of the rules we will still not be allowed to do what we initially requested and update our website, be it live or via drafting reports directly. This is because we do not do that via a third party social network and by rights it is itself not a social network.
The rules will maintain: “Proceedings at meetings may not be photographed, videoed, sound recorded, broadcast or transmitted in any way outside the meeting”.
Video streaming occurs 11 miles up the road in Chester, clicking here will show the potential systems that could be in place in Wrexham with on-demand playback, skipping to relevant council debates on a per-councillor basis.
Such systems have been on the cards before, however were not followed up due to costs – around £130,000 to cover all meetings. At the time we commented on the incorrect advice given on one section of the proposal, and with similar systems cropping up at councils up and down the country costs could have tumbled.
Yet if cost is the main barrier, a simple free rules change to allow broadcasts would allow attendees, be them press public or members, to use free and simple technology to broadcast, record and republish meetings themselves.
We will be showing how such technologies can be creatively applied on Tuesday, assuming the proposed changes occur.
Several developments, perhaps most interestingly the creation of a ‘local Hansard‘, would rely on opening of rules and protocols with volunteers and outside organisations doing the rest.
As MySociety say: “Councils, of course, are too poor to have transcribers, and so don’t produce transcripts. Plus, nobody wants to know what’s going on anyway. Those are the twin beliefs that ensure that verbatim transcripts are an exceptional rarity in the local government world.”
“At MySociety we think the time has come to actively challenge these beliefs. We are going to be building a set of technologies whose aim is to start making the production of written transcripts of local government meetings a normal practice.”
Essentially the rules have not changed with the basic issue unresolved. In practise this rule change formalises what occurs at the moment, with a request to the Chair to tweet, but nothing more and is an opportunity missed to encourage others. Sadly, we will not be able to take part in the MySociety project, nor explore our own ideas further, until the rules change properly.
As was pondered in 2011, and now re-pondered in 2013 “If the aim is for transparency and to see democracy in action this reporter wonders why this is required – why not open it to all?“
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