Sunday, 27 February 2011


In a recent BBC News article, Communities Secretary and Tory thumbelina Eric Pickles has told local authorities that bloggers should be allowed to film council meetings, presumably with home camcorders or mobile phones:

“Fifty years ago, Margaret Thatcher changed the law to make councils open their meetings to the press and the public. This principle of openness needs to be updated for the 21st Century. More and more local news comes from bloggers or citizen journalists telling us what is happening at their local council. Many councils are internet-savvy and stream meetings online, but some don’t seem to have caught up with the times and are refusing to let bloggers or hyper-local news sites in.”

Thanet Council does upload webcasts of council meetings and Tony Flaig has kicked up such a stink about the public not having access to the council chamber – a problem which has since been rectified – that I think we can all be in agreement that at least our council is trying to meet us halfway. Especially when you compare TDC to Windsor & Maidenhead Borough Council, who prevented blogger Chris Taggart from recording council meetings; or Tameside Borough Council, who only allowed members of the press to tweet during meetings and not members of the public or local bloggers.

In fact, I couldn’t help but notice that Tony is staying ahead of the curve by doing a running commentary of a recent Thanet Council meeting on his Big News Margate blog. As a Lib Dem supporter, perhaps Tony’s enamoured of his coalition buddy Eric Pickles’s stance on giving power to bloggers?! After all, Tony’s post was made just one day after Mr Pickles shared his view on bloggers’ rights on the BBC News website. Coincidence?

In all seriousness, people scoff at the concept of citizen journalism, but the fact of the matter is the newspaper industry is dying and UK journalism jobs are in decline, so it’s only right that bloggers and ordinary people step forward and fill that vacuum. The reportage may not be as professional, but if members of the general public can’t speak out freely about matters of interest and disclose them on blogs, then all you’ve got to ask yourselves is: Is that democratic? The answer, in my view, is no.

For all of his faults, Eric Pickles is right to bark up this tree, and we all know how much he likes barking. Bloggers and members of the public should definitely be allowed to attend, record, tweet, text and communicate electronically via Twitter (or blogs) at local council meetings. It’s freedom of speech innit. Welcome to the 21st century.

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